Monday, February 26, 2007


The title of this book, 'Fontanelle' by Meir Shalev does not give its publishing language away, but again this book is in German - though a number of his books have also been published in English, so it may yet come out in the UK.

I first came across this author at the book festival in Edinburgh, in about 2001 or so. Shalev is an Israeli writer, generally always writing the same book - a family saga of immigrants from Eastern Europe who settled in rural Israel maybe in the 1920s or so, and the developments within this family full of idiosyncratic folk over the next two or three generations. His books are very funny and amusing, and although Shalev's fantasy tends to run riot (one of his books included a speaking donkey), one nevertheless gets an impression of how Israel has developed over the decades.

This book is no different. Michael, the narrator, who is writing his family memoir, is the only person in the world whose fontanelle has not closed, so naturally his head is very sensitive - to the degree that he can predict certain events. His family, the Joffes, is full of strange characters - the huge dominant grandfather who shrinks to a cot-sized dwarf as he ages; the mother who is a radical vegetarian, the aunt who has not left the house during daylight since she got married in order to preserve her beauty, the aunt's illegitimate son brought up by the grandfather, the one-armed father who has a harem of women who all attend his funeral (not surprising he needs them what with the rigid vegetarian as his wife), and many other such characters. Every new Joffe who appears at the gates of the family farm, saying he is related, has to pass a test to see if they are a true Joffe, for example, by the way they slice bread.

The book skips backwards and forwards, with previously unexplained events eventually being described. The story is largely attached to the provenance of various family sayings - of which there are many!

The books is beautifully written/translated - and even if Shalev writes the same book every time, they are sufficiently different and complex to enjoy them in their different ways.