Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on A Woman in Jerusalem.
A.B. Yehoshua's latest work is an emotional account of loss and redemption set in the violence of Jerusalem and the frozen steppes of Eastern Europe. Yulia Ragayev, a Tatar immigrant to Jerusalem, is killed in a suicide bombing at the market. Her body lies unidentified in the morgue for over a week, a bloody paystub found among her belongings the only clue to her identity. A local journalist decides to write an article about the woman and the neglect of the company that employed her at neither noticing that she was missing nor stepping forward to claim her.
The Human Resources Manager of the company is called upon by the guilt-stricken elderly owner to discover the identity of the woman in order to prevent the attack from the local newspaper, and to take care of her burial. The Human Resources Manager, dealing with his own problems of impending divorce and custody sharing, is reluctant to do anything about the situation at first. As he learns about Yulia Ragayev, however, he finds himself falling under her spell. His sudden obsession with this beautiful Tatar woman results in his trip to her homeland to accompany her body home for burial. On arrival, he meets Yulia's captivating son, who would like to see his mother buried in the remote village of her birth where her mother still lives.
Despite obstacles in getting to Yulia's birthplace, the Human Resources Manager approaches the trip with a heart full of compassion. He doesn't do this because he feels obligated; he does it because he genuinely wants to. He realizes that he's in love with Yulia Ragayev, or at least the idea of her, and he longs to see her origins and meet her mother. When he finally meets her, she insists that Yulia should have been buried in Jerusalem and begs the Human Resources Manager to take both her and Yulia's son back to Jerusalem with him. Although this request seems impossible, the Human Resources Manager embraces it, having found a new appreciation and respect for his homeland. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty for his company, and now he wants to help Yulia's family out of his own need to keep her family together, something he could not do with his own.
Yehoshua employs an interesting device in this novel. The dead woman, Yulia Ragayev, is the only person in the novel with a name. Somehow, she is more alive than anyone else. Yehoshua is also able to make connections between two such seemingly different worlds as Israel and a former Soviet republic to show that perhaps they are not so very different after all. A Woman in Jerusalem is a bizarre book, but one with a lot of compassion and beauty in worlds that seem bereft of both.