A POSTMODERN BIBLICAL STORY AND SATIRE OF ÉMIGRÉ LIFE IN ISRAEL
Here Comes The Messiah! both satirizes Russian émigré life in Israel and explores the spiritual aspects of its multi-ethnic population. The novel revolves around Ziama, a Russian Jewish émigré woman living in Israel and Writer N., the woman who is actually writing the life of Ziama. The text moves back and forth between Writer N.'s own “real” life and Ziama's “fictional” life, all of which is being written by yet another narrator. We see Writer N. populate her novel with characters from her own life, we watch them struggle, sometimes hilariously, sometimes tragically, with the dangers and absurdities of life on the West Bank, in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. This novel is very much a classical biblical story of a people gone astray and in need of redemption, a story told with as much humor as pathos.
From Here Comes The Messiah!
Tanya Gurvich, whom all residents of the Russian Camp neighborhood—from little baby buntings to veterans of the Great Fatherland War—called Tanya the Naked, was, to a great extent, respectable and even—let's not shy from the phrase—of high moral fiber.
The fact that she sometimes appeared at public gatherings undressed, or let's put it more delicately—under-dressed, came from her inner purity and perception of life with an infant's clarity. Just like a year-old child who, having yanked free from the hand of the nanny bathing him, suddenly appears at the living room doorway bare-bellied, on funny fat little legs, and under the gaze of the tenderly touched guests, proudly and trustingly toddles over to his mama. The infant does not feel ashamed of his nakedness. Likewise, Tanya the Naked didn't feel ashamed of hers. You can label this whatever you please, only for God's sake, let Freud (whom everyone's sick of by now) rest in peace.
Rabbi Joshua Parkhomovsky, for example, explained this phenomenon by saying that Tanya, who, per kabbalistic conceptualization was sparkling new, like a coin freshly stamped in God's Mint, had a soul which, due to unknown circumstances, contained not (as it should have contained) a single particle of biblical Eve's soul. Consequently, Tanya was not mixed up, as other women were, in the notorious apple-eating incident. Well, she wasn't. Therefore, she knew not the shame of nakedness.
Although, we repeat, in all other respects of distinguishing between good and evil, she oriented herself impeccably. She never lied. She didn't encroach on another's kopeck. The purest of souls—didn't envy anyone. Moreover, she didn't commit adultery!—which, in the above-mentioned light may well seem incredible. But the simple fact remains—Tanya the Naked was far from being the least little, even innocent, flirt.
She was raising her five-year-old son by herself. They say that her husband left Tanya the Naked after finding her naked with a friend of his the week after the wedding. Forthright Tanya explained this occurrence by the fact that it was a very hot day, and that she'd gone to open the door directly from the shower, having forgotten to throw on a robe. (We, in the given instance, don't recall anything about the husband's friend who wound up in this mess.)
What can one say about such a friend, even if he's as hard a seasoned nut as Sashka Rabinovich (Tanya the Naked's closest neighbor on the right) an artist, it so happens, for the theater, a man familiar with the hysterical world of the wings, who has seen in his day this nude model and that, who would, from time to time, even catch in flight a kipah falling from his head. Because, no matter what you say, a nude model standing on a podium in a studio among easels is one thing, but a full white breast hanging from the second-floor balcony, a breast with a nipple, cherry puckered as if marinated for years in sweetened vodka, a breast whose outline echoes the roundness of a hill in the Judean Wilderness—that, ladies and gentlemen, is something else entirely.
Dina Rubina (www.dinarubina.com/news.html – in Russian) lives with her family in Ma'aleh Adumim, Israel. She is the author of two long novels and many collections of novellas and stories. Her work has been translated into 12 languages, including French, German, English, and Uzbek.
Daniel M. Jaffe (danieljaffe.tripod.com) is a fiction writer and translator of Russian literature. His short stories and essays have appeared in such journals as The Greensboro Review, The American Writer, and The Florida Review. Jaffe is also the editor of With Signs And Wonders: An International Anthology of Fabulist Jewish Fiction (Invisible Cities Press, Spring 2001).
Here Comes the Messiah!, by Dina Rubina [PB]
Here Comes the Messiah!
By Dina Rubina
from Russian by Daniel M. Jaffe
ISBN 0-939010-60-7 (paper), $16.95
6 x 9
Read Dina Rubina's prose...the way you used to go on a bender—for the shear pleasure of it...For the liveliness of its imagination. For its quick-witted cleverness. For its insatiably greedy attention to life's tiny splinters and to society's variegated debris.
—Alla Marchenko, Novyi Mir
The secret of Rubina's intonation: she alternates tragedy with anecdotes while keeping a straight face. Pain with guffaws. Farce with grief. The strange fabric of Rubina's prose seems familiar and unfamiliar...Anecdote winds around anecdote and gag around gag. Plus the machine-gun, cinema-graphic succession of episodes... Plus a persistent accumulation of scandal throughout the action. And a sound, savory scandal at the end...almost Dostoevskian. The text prickles with hidden quotations, glitters with hints, ripples with recognizable motifs.
—Lev Anninsky, Druzhba Narodov
At times Rubina's prose, which in Daniel Jaffe's fine translation resonates with Russian cadences, is as harmonious as a Tchaikovsky concerto. Other times it is as cacophonous as a scherzo by Stravinsky. But even when Rubina's writing is contemplative, it crackles with energy.
—Marlena Thompson on www.Jbooks.com, Summer 2001