From post-WWII in Haifa, Israel, in the 1950s as an eight-year-old girl to adulthood, marriage and motherhood, protagonist Rina experiences a childhood defined by close family ties and the adult woman who does not find an easy fit in the world, all but consumed by the care of a physically fragile child. With the bright enthusiasm of an eight-year-old, Rina describes her family’s habitation in a building filled with other immigrant families, often many sleeping and living in the confines of four walls.
Rina’s nuclear family is fortunate in that their balcony provides a view of the neighborhood with all its eccentricities, but privacy is almost non-existent. While poverty and lack of personal space dominate daily family business, Rina nevertheless embraces life with the healthy pragmatism of a child, making the most of opportunity, her older sister ever a stabilizing voice. The novel comes to life in these chapters, the streets filled with the voices of children, the laughter and arguments of passionate people in close proximity to one another.
As a wife and mother, Rina is not as resourceful or ebullient. She falls in love with a man from Spain, her romantic life confused and chaotic. Childhood dreams haven’t translated into reality. Once their premature child is born - not in Barcelona but in Haifa - both parents are obsessed with the details of guiding that frail daughter through the first treacherous years of her life, endless hospital visits their common cause, the ties of affection gradually frayed into threads.
The exuberance that so filled Rina as a child does not survive the rigors of life at the mercy of the baby’s many physical emergencies. Inevitably, the compromises of marriage fail to materialize, Rina growing increasingly angry at her situation and her husband’s demands. Contrasting Rina’s childhood with her life as wife and mother, Frank portrays a woman grown unhappy and demanding, joy extinguished from years of dealing with her daughter’s infirmities.
Culturally rich, overflowing with the family stories of a crowded childhood and a neighborhood brimming with activity, Rina’s Rumanian parents carve their own niche into the newly created state of Israel, happy and productive regardless of the sacrifices made by each family member on behalf of the others. The laughter, tears, outrages and family stories bring this era to life, the energy of a young country as irrepressible as Rina’s penchant for following her instincts. While it is harder to empathize with Rina as wife and mother, her impulses barely in check, as a child she is a delight.