Winter 1959. We are in Haïfa and it’s cold. Egyptian Jewish orphans Solly (14 ans) and Lola (15 ans) aren’t used to this weather, you wouldn’t turn a child out in weather like this. They’re so different… but equally terrified: Solly is a rascal in the making, he can charm and wriggle his way out of anything; Lola is out and out bookish, romantic, a dreamer. Where to go? Where will this new rootless life take them? To Wadi Salib in the Golan Heights, to two strange women, the silent Ruthie Schreiber and Magda the chatterbox who live like two sisters, bound by a pact of remembrance: they both survived the camps. At least that’s what the reader thinks at the start of this novel which is bustling yet humane, and moving but provocative. Were these two women really deported? What is the price of survival? And how do you adapt in an Israel of colonisers and uncomfortably juxtaposed communities, what to choose and who to be?
Born in Cairo in pre-Nasser Egypt and sent to Israel by her parents as part of the Egyptian Jewish exodus, Paula Jacques is a major literary figure. She has been producing the France Inter arts programme Cosmopolitaine since 1999, and as a novelist is the author of titles including Deborah et les anges dissipés (1991, Prix Fémina), Gilda Stambouli souffre et se plaint (2002, Mercure de France) and Rachel-Rose et l’officier arabe (2006, Prix Simenon).
Du moins, c’est ce que le lecteur va croire au début de ce roman foisonnant, humain, émouvant et provocateur à la fois. Les déportées le furent-elles vraiment ? Quel est le prix à payer pour survivre ? Et dans l’Israël des pionniers et de la coexistence difficile entre les communautés sépharade et ashkénaze, comment s’adapter, que choisir et qui être ?