Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Confessions of Noa Weber, Gail Hareven

"This award-winning novel of one woman's quest to understand her obsessive love for a mysterious man is by turns funny, self-mocking, and brutally honest.
Writer Noa Weber is a respected cultural figure with all the trappings of a successful "feminist" life- with a strong career, and a wonderful daughter she raised alone. Yet her interior life is inextricably bound by her love for one man- Alek.
Trying to free herself from this lifelong obsessive love, Noa turns her pen upon herself, and with relentless honesty dissects her own life. Against the evocative setting of turbulent, modern-day Israel, the examination becomes a quest to transform irrational desire into a greater, more transcendent understanding of love."

I was expecting to love this book. Or at least to like it. Obsessive love & modern Israel? How could I not be interested? I ordered the book after reading this excerpt which to my mind gives the idea that there might be a smidge of romance involved in the obsession. But there isn't one shred of romance between Noa and Alec.

The book is very well written and has some excellent passages but I could not get over how much I wanted to slap some sense into Noa. I know it is the modern, enlightened attitude to act like you have no natural feelings or affection for others and that no one should ask anyone else to live up to their responsibilities or, to heaven forbid, stop being so incredibly selfish for two minutes!

Alek is a horrible person and I was so conflicted between pitying Noa for her messed up feelings towards him and being angry with her. She made the choice to be with him with whatever small portion of himself he was willing to give her so it is hard to see her as a victim. But the descriptions of her pathetic pregnancy and abandonment were seriously brutal to read. I don't even begin to understand how she could still harbor such "love" for him at that point.


"When he turned away and went to his room, I, moved to the point of tears, thought of a poem by David Vogel we had studied for finals. "How can I see you, love,/Standing alone/ Amid storms of grief/ Without feeling my heart shake?" I returned again and again in those days to that poem, which continued: "Come,/ My hand will clasp your dreaming/ Hand,/ And I shall lead you down between the nights." But I was only his fictitious wife, married to him only by law and by the law of my love, and most of the time I stood "alond amid storms of grief" and his heart did not shake. And his hand did not clasp my hand to lead me between the nights." (p.125)

"The problem isn't that he's unworthy, but that it isn't worthy to love anyone the way I love him" (p.137)

"...suddenly I understood that in my foolishness I had seen my pregnancy with Hagar and the night of her birth as a kind of covenant between us." (p.139)

"There will never be a summer for us. Never in any summer will I walk with him along foreign streets, with their desperate squalor and their desperate splendor that I seem to know from some previous incarnation. And never will I experience again the consciousness of infinite expanses where everything seems pointless but love itself. Love will never expand me. The one right body will never come to me." (p.174)

"...she was offering me her biography on a steaming plate as well." (p.185)

For as much as this book aggravated me I really was impressed with the writing. Particularly the scenes when Alek finds out about Noa's pregnancy, Noa's imaginary interview (p.195), and Noa's feelings on never leaving the apartment, to name a few. As crazy as Noa's feelings for Alek are there is that grain of truth in them that resonantes with me (and all other recovered teenage girls- at least I'm hoping it's not just me.) I like how the NPR reviewer describes it:

"We may wish our ex-lovers would do the decent thing and move to Bolivia after the breakup, but then how to explain the nights we're up decoding their blogs to determine if they've forgotten us, or the very slow drives past their houses? Those who have indulged in such behavior might find themselves growing uncomfortable reading Gail Hareven's story of romantic obsession, The Confessions of Noa Weber."


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