From the author of Not Me, this powerful novel about an Israeli father and his daughter brings to life a rich canvas of events and unexpected change in the aftermath of a suicide bombing.
In the galvanizing opening of The Wanting, the celebrated Russian-born postmodern architect Roman Guttman is injured in a bus bombing, causing his life to swerve into instability and his perceptions to become heightened and disturbed as he embarks on an ill-advised journey into Palestinian territory. The account of Roman’s desert odyssey alternates with the vivacious, bittersweet diary of his thirteen-year-old daughter, Anyusha (who is on her own perilous path, of which Roman is ignorant), and the startlingly alive witnessings of Amir, the young Palestinian who pushed the button and is now damned to observe the havoc he has wrought from a shaky beyond.
Enriched by flashbacks to the alluringly sad tale of Anyusha’s mother, a famous Russian refusenik who died for her beliefs, The Wanting is a poignant study of the costs of extremism, but it is most satisfying as a story of characters enmeshed in their imperfect love for one another and for the heartbreakingly complex world in which that love is wrought.
I don’t know what it was. It might have been a head, or perhaps a hand or foot, it went by so fast, but following it, as if pulling a wire, came the explosion, and instantaneously the window I was sitting beside shattered. I can remember distinctly the feeling of glass slicing my skin—it was remarkably painless. At the same time, I fell sideways off my chair and landed at the foot of the drafting table, which I suppose is what saved me, for the entire window, the window I loved, the window that gave my studio an enchanting hint of antiquity in this otherwise modern neighborhood and suffused the entire room with light all the seasons of the year, crashed down in a thunder of tinker-bells, but not upon me. The drafting table was my umbrella. When it was finally quiet—and it was a quiet I had never heard before, a quiet that was a chasm between the breath before and the breath after—I looked up and saw a huge spur of glass hanging over the edge of the table, teetering just above my face. In that second, I thought of two things. I thought of God, and I thought of Kristallnacht. Then everything was noise—I couldn’t tell what—screaming? sirens? cries for help?—and an incredible ringing in my ears that I thought might be angels crying, or laughing, or perhaps it was the ringing you hear when you are actually deaf.
Looking up at the overhang of glass, I almost thought I was standing behind a waterfall, and the thunder I was feeling was the water careening down the cliff face. But I understood this was an illusion. I was on the floor and a bomb had just gone off. And the object flying past my window? It probably had been the head of the bomber, winking at me. But I was also aware that Amoz and Tsipa were speaking to me. Their desks were situated far from the window, all the way on the other side of the office, where I had put them. Now they were bending over me, breaking the curtain of water. I could see they were moving their mouths, but I could not hear them, so I smiled up at them and said shalom. But they did not seem to hear me either, and they did not smile back. And that is all I remember of that moment.
I woke up in the ambulance. The paramedic was ultra-orthodox, like the guys who come around afterward and pick up body parts. His name tag read moishe. He had a greenish piece of salami stuck between his teeth and a beard that would be hanging down to his navel except that it was stuffed in a paper bonnet. He was wearing a Day-Glo orange security vest, a black scull cap, and eyeglasses that had slipped down onto the tip of his nose. But he seemed to know what he was doing.
“Keep calm,” he said.
“Where am I?”
He looked out the back window. “On Yehudah Street.”
Literalness, I had learned, was often a consequence of studying Talmud. “I mean, what happened?”
He patted my hand. “You were in a terrorist attack. I’m guessing it’s Hamas, but it could be Fatah or Islamic Jihad. I don’t think it was Hezbollah. Yes, most likely Hamas.”
“How do you know?”
He shrugged. “You get a feeling for these things.”
“Am I going to die?”
“It’s possible.” He felt my torso. “But highly unlikely. It looks like you have some superficial cuts.”
I tried getting a glimpse out the window.
“Don’t move! One move and you could push that piece of glass right into your brain. Then you definitely would die.”
“There’s glass sticking out of my head?”
“A very big piece. If it was a mirror, I could do my makeup in it. And frankly I wouldn’t talk so much, there’s also glass jutting out of your cheek. You don’t want to cut your tongue off. But don’t worry. I’m here to save you. That’s my job.”
“You’re a religious man, right?”
“What does God say about all this?”
“About bombs going off in cafés and architectural offices and innocent people having their heads blown off and me with so much glass in me I could pass for a Tiffany lamp?”
“Not a café. It was the bus stop at the corner under your building. But you knew that from the trajectory of the head I sent as a warning.”
“Yes, I saw it. I ducked.”
“You didn’t duck, you moved five centimeters to the left and raised your right arm ten centimeters from its position above your drafting table, which caused the flying glass to be deflected from your carotid artery and instead cut the nerve in your triceps brachii, which will cause you only minor annoyance for the rest of the year, instead of having killed you instantly.”
“What about the glass in my forehead and my cheek?”
“Incidental. It will give you scars of which you will be justly proud. It will possibly end in several highly successful sexual encounters, if you play your cards right.”
“So you saved my life?”
“But why?” he asked back.
“Yes, but why?”
“Hold on, I have to check your fluids.”
Being in the hands of someone so experienced seemed to calm me down, and I passed out again. When I next awoke I was still in the ambulance, but there was a beautiful Sephardic woman leaning over me, green eyes and coffee skin.
“Where’s the other guy?” I said.
“What other guy?”
I attempted to search the ambulance, but my neck was in a brace and I couldn’t move.
“It’s just me,” she said. “You’ll have to settle for me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You were in a terrorist attack,” she explained.
“How . . . ?”
“I don’t know. A bus stop, I think.”
“But how did you get here?”
She took my hand. “We’re almost there.”
“Where’s that Moishe guy?”
“But he knew what he was doing!”
When I opened my eyes again, I was in the hospital, and Anyusha was sitting next to the bed reading a comic book. “Hi, Papoola!” she said. She called me Dad using the Russian diminutive because I hated when she did that.
“What are you doing here?” I said.
“Duh,” she replied.
Anna, whom I call Anyusha—a name I made up one day, although sometimes I call her Anya, Anyula, Anechka, Anyuta, or Anka depending on my mood—was only thirteen at the time. She set her comic book on the chair and moved closer to me. She was staring at my face with what I thought was morbid curiosity.
“Is it bad?” I asked her.
“Well, it’s gross, but it’s not bad in medical terms. You have two black eyes and lots of little cuts all over, and then there is a big thing on your forehead where they gave you stitches and one long one going down this side of your face”—she traced a line on her cheek—“and your face is all bandaged except where the stitches are, well actually a lot of you is all bandaged—arms, legs—and your right ear is kind of messed up and also your right arm. That’s going to hurt most, they said. You have some glass in your other arm that they still have to pull out, and your hands are cut up, but the doctor said you are really, really lucky, because nothing got in your eyes and no nerves in your face were severed.”
“Where did you learn to talk like this?”
“Get me some water,” I said.
“I have to get the doctor. They told me to tell them when you woke up.” She skipped out of the room.
A moment later she came back, her brilliant white arms shining like silver candlesticks. “I told the nurse.” She spit out her chewing gum and sat down in the chair. “They said you were hallucinating when you came in,” she said matter-of-factly. “You were talking in Russian so they got a Russian doctor. What were you hallucinating?”
“I don’t know.”
“Something weird about your ambulance. I’ll ask the doctor what you were saying.”
“Because it’s important,” she said.
“I was in shock,” I said. “I was just yammering.”
“That’s when the truth comes out,” she explained.
“What’s that comic book you’re reading?” I asked her.
“It’s not a comic book. It’s manga. A graphic novel.”
“Fushigi Yûgi. It’s about Yui and Miaka. They go to see the oracle Tai Yi-Jun, and Miaka is trapped inside a magic mirror while her reflection—who is very, very evil—takes her place in the real world, so Yui has to save her. It’s very complicated, Papoola. You see, they find this book (they find it in the first chapter, because this is chapter eight), and they can be in the book, and whatever they read happens to them, although they can change things, too—anyway, they have to use the power of the Four Gods of Earth and Sky because Miaka is actually the Priestess of Suzaku, which is the God of Fire.”
“You should be reading Pushkin,” I said.
The doctor came in. He was Feldman, a Russian, and he spoke to me in Russian, even though he heard me speaking Hebrew with Anyusha.
“You’re awake! That’s good! Let’s take a look!” He pried open my eyes, shining his little searchlight into the irises. “Looks good,” he said. Then he evoked a serious tone. “You know why you’re here?”
“I think so.”
“Still fuzzy. That’s normal. What’s the date?”
“It’s Wednesday, May 8, 1996.”
“It’s Thursday, actually.”
“I lost a day?”
“You’ve been out for a while,” he said, “but now you’re back. And that’s what matters.”
“Listen,” I said, “I want to thank the paramedic who brought me here. I think his name was Moishe.”
“I’ll check on it,” said the doctor. “In the meantime your stitches look good. We’re going to keep you bandaged up for a while, going to watch for infection.”
“Pretty bad, huh?”
“You should see the other guy!” he quipped.
That’s when I remembered the head, soaring past my window with a look, I now realized, of envy in its eyes.
Excerpted from The Wanting by Michael Lavigne. Copyright © 2013 by Michael Lavigne. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Michael Lavigne was born in Newark, New Jersey, and educated at Millersville State College and the University of Chicago, where he did graduate work on the Committee on Social Thought. His first novel, Not Me, received the Sami Rohr Choice Award for emerging Jewish writers and was named an American Library Association Sophie Brody Honor Book and a Book-of-the-Month Club Alternate Selection; it was also translated into three languages. Lavigne has worked extensively in advertising, for which he has won many awards, is a founder of the Tauber Jewish Studies Program at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and spent three years living and working in the Soviet Union. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Gayle Geary.