October 2004

Gena Anderson

fiction

The Place Will Comfort You by Naama Goldstein

A collection of eight short stories, The Place Will Comfort You does an amazing job of delineating the cultural and social differences between the American and Israeli worlds that can make it difficult for someone who is stuck between them to navigate. Having not had much firsthand experience with Israeli culture, understanding some of the book was a struggle at times, but definitely worth the effort.

The book is in two parts, “Olim (Ascending)," veYordim (and Descending)." These terms are explained in the last story of the book, “The Worker Who Rests Under the Hero Trees” when one character asks another why her family decided to descend: “Meaning emigrate but applicable only when the launching point was Israel. Immigration was ascent, and emigration, the fall. The lingo wasn’t new. There was a famine in the land, and Abraham descended into Egypt to sojourn there. Under similar circumstances, Jacob and his went down, but never again came up.” Thus, the first part of the book contains stories of people who were from America and moved to Israel and the second part the reverse. The division of the book itself embodies the struggle that each character has in trying to fit into one world while coming from another. Goldstein deftly writes the details of both worlds into each story -- everything from difference in consistency of breakfast cereals to the jarring contrast of formal school dress with informal pink plastic earrings serve to pull the reader into the differences between cultures.

It is interesting to note that many of these stories take place in or around a classroom setting, an area where a person may get their most early and emphatic lessons on where they belong in the structure of society and culture. “The Conduct for Consoling” is about a young girl from the United States struggling to understand her Israeli classmates, whereas “Barbary Apes” tells the story of a girl in Manhattan who is obsessed with the Israeli heritage of her teacher, who is from Gibralter. In placing most of the stories around the classroom, Goldstein seems to further highlight the awkwardness of the situations -- the microcosm of the classroom makes even further evident the difference in the countries themselves.

The tone of the book is interesting to examine. Each character is written so matter-of-factly, really with no over-explanations as to why they take the actions they do. This is both jarring and fascinating, and coupled with the strange syntax of Goldstein’s sentences, leaves the reader with a strange sense of having just peered into a random scene of someone’s life, much like a voyeur who has no sense of what context they were just put into.

The Place will Comfort You by Naama Goldstein
Scribner
ISBN: 0743251350
210 Pages