Bearing the Body
Ehud Havazelet
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Buy *Bearing the Body* by Ehud Havazeletonline

Bearing the Body
Ehud Havazelet
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
304 pages
August 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In this tale of memory, theft, and guilt, thirty-something Nathan Mirsky aspires to become a doctor while finishing his residency at a Boston hospital. His older brother, Daniel, once the pride of the Mirsky family, has just died San Francisco. Albeit a brilliant child, as a teenager growing up in the early Seventies, Daniel soon developed a taste for student activism, which in turn led to a life of drugs.

Although Daniel had been long since cast off from his family, over the years he has periodically tried to reconnect with Nathan in a series of letters, outlining his struggles to cope with his life and his battle with heroin. About his brother's death, all Nathan had been told by the San Francisco police is that it was a homicide, something preposterous about gang activity. Apparently, he was found dead in an alley far from his home.

None of this, from Daniel's death to its circumstances to the handling of his body, makes even the slightest shred of sense to Nathan. To top it all off, on the same day, Daniel had written Nathan a final letter, typically chatty and entertaining, which gave no indication of what he eventually planned to do. Even though they weren't very close and had lost touch, Nathan soon finds himself crushed under the emotional weight of his brother's loss.

Feeling burdened, troubled and disconsolate, Nathan marks this incident as just one more notch to add to his growing list of problems - the most pressing of which is his steadily disintegrating relationship with his girlfriend, Janet, and his increasingly distant kinship with his father Sol, who now lives a widower's life in Queens, New York.

For a son who was once the apple of his father's eye and the one thought most likely to get what he wanted out of life at whatever cost, it comes as no surprise that Sol wants to accompany Nathan to San Francisco, partly to try and unravel the mess of Daniel's death, but also to allay his own feelings of guilt and sorrow and perhaps tackle the notion that he could have done much more to help out his oldest boy in life rather than in death.

Out West they both go, ostensibly to navigate the jigsaw puzzle of Daniel's last days. San Francisco, however, is not what either of them expected, the city enough to make Sol dizzy with anguish: "he had to stop and stare, resisting the urge to reach out and hold onto something." Nathan, meanwhile, worn down by his long hours and hectic schedule, feels as though he can only sleepwalk through the experience, the sensations of this city diffused and unreliable, leaving him wanting more than anything to run away.

When they visit Daniel's dingy, scattered apartment, they discover a young woman who goes by the name of Abby sleeping in Daniel's disheveled bed. She says she's been living for some time here; apparently she, Daniel, and her six-year-old son, Ben, had been together for two years. Shocked at the scenario, Nathan tries to be friendly. Sol, disgusted, flees the scene, but only after he and Nathan promise to meet Abby later in a coffee shop to discuss Daniel's final days.

As these four characters connect, author Ehud Havazelet beautifully plays out the painful side of their lives. There is much suffering here, all brought to the forefront in delicately descriptive fragments and shards that resonate throughout the story. Each chapter adds layer upon layer, digging deep into the heart of the human condition, revealing life to sometimes be sheer and brittle, often "a complicated balance miraculously poised against chaos."

When Sol is suddenly admitted to hospital, Nathan inexplicably finds himself adrift and alone in this strange new city, and he is forced finally to confront his past actions. Reluctant to face the truth, Nathan has spent much of his life hiding behind the growing problems of his own addictions and his inability to be a good partner to Janet. He remembers being young and emotionally aimless, with thoughts of envy, worry, and a vague annoyance at Daniel's unceasing attention-demanding performances.

In the meantime, Sol lies in his hospital bed, haunted by the chaos of the Holocaust and the suffering he and his brother were forced to endure. For Sol, it's been a lifetime of looking back in grim and resolute silence, even as his wife, Freda, halted by the past, was content to hold it at bay, even in her illness.

In vivid and melodic chapters awash in emotion and description, Havazelet brings his characters' deepest and darkest thoughts to life. This makes Bearing the Body all the more potent and profound as it offers up painful insights into the ramifications of brotherly love, the difficulties of keeping a family together, the painful perils of addiction, the devastating emotional effects of the Holocaust, and the need to find a place to belong.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2007

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