The Third Day by Chochana Boukhobza
|The Third Day by Chochana Boukhobza|
|Genre: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Although not a conventional thriller, this has the pace, tension and suspense of the best of that type of book. It's a story of retribution and dealing with the past but without the introspection that normally goes with such stories. It's a gripping read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: March 2012|
|Publisher: MacLehose Press|
Set in Jerusalem in the late 1980s, an elderly, Jewish, celebrated cellist Elisheva is visiting Israel with her protégé, Rachel, ostensibly to give a concert performance. It quickly becomes apparent that Elisheva survived the Nazi camps by playing her music for the feared camp commander, known as the Butcher of Majdanek, and while on the surface she survived this ordeal well, it is clear that she has a darker intent with her three day visit. Through an underground network of Nazi hunters, she has managed to lure the Butcher from his home in Venezuela to visit Israel. Will they meet and what will happen when they do?
The Third Day, translated from French by Alison Anderson, is fast paced and gripping. Given the subject matter, you might be forgiven for expecting either a traumatic read about events in the concentration camps (which is kind of the impression you might get from reading the cover of the book) or an introspective, self-analyzing read about being Jewish. Nothing could be further from the truth here though. Quite literally, I didn't know how it was going to end until the very last page.
Having established the underlying aims of Elisheva, Boukhobza turns her attention to Rachel, whose chapters are told in the first person. In fact, Elisheva's story gets pushed very much into the background for much of the book but you are always aware that it is there and that it has its own sense of urgency to the story.
Rachel's story also deals with her past, although it is much more recent of course. Having moved to the US to pursue her music, she takes the opportunity of her visit to Jerusalem to see her religiously strict and distant father and her mother. She also catches up with old friends, including her former lover, Eytan who is now unhappily married and expecting his first child. This in itself starts a 'will they / won't they' get back together scenario whose outcome is as uncertain as Elisheva's storyline. Will Rachel give up her music for Eytan and will he leave his wife?
Boukhobza manages to portray the different relationships of groups to the Zionist cause and to their relationship both with each other and with the state of Israel. She manages to portray the huge complexity and differences that exist in Jerusalem in particular and the excitement and tension that gives rise to. However, the strength of the story is in its pace and emotion. While undoubtedly the past affects attitudes to a large degree, Boukhobza concentrates on the here and now. Naturally the metaphor of music plays a part and you could say that the stories emerge like the themes of a piece of classical music. Certainly there's more violins than violence. But for me, it's the emotion and passion that carry the narrative through.
Although it isn't really a thriller story - it has more depth to it than that - it has the pace and tension of a thriller. It's one of those books that you get towards the end of and cannot imagine how it will be resolved in just the few remaining pages when you still have no idea what is going to happen. It's a story of retribution on both a personal and grand scale that is quite simply gripping to read.
There's a helpful glossary of terms provided at the back of the book - there are sprinklings of Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and German words in the text - but for the most part the meaning is clear and you don't need to endlessly look words up unless you want to, but it's a thoughtful addition to the book.
Our thanks to the kind people at MacLehose Press for sending this excellent book our way.
For more recent French writing on the Jewish camps then The Origin of Violence by Fabrice Humbert might appeal. Sticking with the translated theme and this time developing the music inspired fiction line, then Stabat Mater by Tiziano Scarpa might appeal, while for a more offbeat suggestion that features Nazis in Latin America, then Far South by David Enrique Spellman is certainly an intriguing and innovative book.
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