A Trumpet in the Wadi

By Sami Michael

(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.

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 Huda, the narrator of the story, is thin and withdrawn and, after abandoning her chance at marriage a few years back, has prematurely resigned herself to the monotonous life of an old maid.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.

Michael's internationally 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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From Publishers Weekly

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.