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Ten Thousand Lovers

by Edeet Ravel

Edeet Ravel’s debut novel, Ten Thousand Lovers, is a stunning book, a must-read for anyone who likes a love story and who cares about justice, humanity, and the state of the world. The time is the late 1990s and Lily, an Israeli-Canadian woman living in London, tells how 20 years before she fell in love with Ami, an interrogator for Israeli’s intelligence service. Initially Lily’s story seems to be the record of a lonely woman’s one great love. But she also speaks of her daughter’s coming of age and offers glimpses into the troubled soul of Israel through dissections of the origins of modern Hebrew words.

Lily is trying to make sense of what happened not only to Ami, but also to Israel. She asks how a nation conceived to right centuries of wrongs against the Jews became involved in thwarting the aspirations of another people, and how decent people on both sides are affected by that struggle. As Ami says: “Everyone sat around and let us get slaughtered and gassed and tortured to death. No one gave a shit. So now we weren’t going to give a shit either…. We’re destroying ourselves, that’s the worst part.”

The 10,000 lovers of the title are the Israeli soldiers killed in the last half century, whom Ravel evokes through a brilliant description of the sorrow Lily feels after hearing the news of Ami’s death. The searing picture Ravel paints of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not make her friends among Zionists, though her credentials for telling this story are excellent. Ravel has a PhD in Jewish studies, and, like her narrator, she was born on a kibbutz. She has also chosen her time frame carefully: the events occur during the seven months prior to May 1977, when The London Sunday Times began a well-documented series of articles on torture by the Israeli intelligence service.

The novel does end somewhat hopefully, though, reminding us that we should remember God’s commandment to Abraham as he was preparing to sacrifice Isaac: “Do not bring your hand down on the child.” Here is the one thing we can do, we should do, Ravel says: say no to the killing of children – our children, your children, all children of God.