Sayed Kashua has made a career out of being an anomaly: A Hebrew-speaking Muslim Israeli Arab. As a writer, he pens a weekly column for Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper, and he writes the hilarious sitcom Arab Labor for Israeli TV.
His 2012 novel, Second Person Singular, is about being Arab in a majority-Jewish country, and it’s also about being a man, and a husband, and a father. In the set-up, an Arab lawyer from Jerusalem–we never learn his name–finds a love letter inside a secondhand book, written in his wife’s handwriting. It’s addressed to someone named Yonatan–a Jewish name. Consumed with jealousy, the lawyer attempts to track down the letter’s original recipient, a quest which takes him across the country–ending in a poor Arab village, just like the one where he grew up.
Most of the book takes place inside the lawyer’s head, but it’s about very real conflicts–with the lawyer’s wife, as well as with Israeli Jews, whose upward mobility he identifies with, but whose social and sexual mores threaten him.
Second Person Singular is a startling novel about a culture in Israel that’s all but invisible. As the lawyer becomes consumed by tracking down Yonatan, the pressure builds to a crescendo in his head–showing us the very real insanity caused by clashes of both relationships and cultures.
May 15, 2012