A Trumpet in the Wadi
(IFM) Leading Israeli
novelist Sami Michael shares his gift for navigating the cultural
conflicts in modern Israel with A Trumpet in the Wadi, a novel that
transcends its Middle Eastern setting with an honest and heartbreaking
story of impossible love and the strength of family.
By Sami Michael
Set in the months preceding
the 1982 Israeli-Arab conflict in Lebanon, this beautifully written
tale is the coming-of-age story of two fatherless Christian Arab
sisters, Huda and Mary, who live in the wadi -- the Arab quarter
in the Jewish city of Haifa on the northern coast of Israel. An
extraordinary bond of love and mutual respect unites the sisters
-- polar opposites from their appearances to their tempers. Huda,
the narrator of the story, is thin and withdrawn and, after abandoning
her chance at marriage a few years back, has prematurely resigned
herself to the monotonous life of an old maid. Her younger sister,
Mary, is voluptuous, carnal, and perennially unemployed. Wrapped
in the love of their sometimes bitter mother, their iconoclast grandfather,
and the cheerful and omnipresent neighbor Jamilla, the sisters'
lives change when a peculiar young Russian Jewish immigrant, Alex,
moves into the upstairs flat. The melodies of the soulful trumpet
player become the intoxicating theme music for Huda's unexpected
reawakening -- and for Mary's dangerous foray into a love triangle
with the heir of the local Muslim mob and her country cousin.
acclaimed novel is a major achievement, illuminating the vast range
of interlocking relationships between Jews and Arabs, Muslims and
Christians, men and women. A Trumpet in the Wadi is an honest, witty,
and ultimately heartbreaking story -- one that draws on the conflicts
in the Middle East, but one whose insights into love and family
can cross all cultural and political boundaries.
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Set in Haifa
just before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, this spirited,
bittersweet novel captures the Arab-Israeli conflict in microcosm.
The seaside city is home to a family of Christian Arabs: irascible
Elias, the patriarch; his busy daughter-in-law, Umm-Huda; and her
fatherless daughters, the beautiful Mary and her older, deplorably
still unwed sister Huda. Also living in their crowded building in
the wadi, or Arab quarter, is newcomer Alex, short in stature but
well-muscled, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who plays his trumpet soulfully
in the building's rooftop shed. His music, patience and remarkable
physique awaken the interest of reticent Huda, while Mary rejects
the advances of Zuhair, the son of their shady Muslim landlord,
for the security of plodding Wahid, her Muslim cousin. A trip taken
by the two couples to the Red Sea resort of Eilat is an uproarious
highlight, and a visit by Huda and Alex to a nursing home to see
Alex's ailing but tyrannical mother is a striking set-piece. The
translation is occasionally stiff, and Michael tends toward over-explanation,
but the novel deals cleverly and humorously with complicated relationships.
Against the tragic backdrop of current events, the willingness of
Michael's characters to ignore the strictures of individual religious
beliefs and to shun fanaticism, is refreshing, though perhaps increasingly
hard to credit.