Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
This collection of short stories by Israeli/French-born author and teacher Arye Dreyfus takes place in various places around the world, but the commonalities are that the main characters and/or situations in each are based in conflict and the characters doing what they need to do to keep on keeping on. I guess you could say, ‘making the dream count.’
“Ophira,” the first story in the collection, sets the stage for the conflict theme. The Holy See and Jerusalem are at a stand-off over an historic painting of a sensual woman created by a Jewish artist and smuggled out of France before it could be burned during World War II by the Germans in an effort to destroy as many vestiges of Jewish culture as they could.
This story was one of the more complex of the collection–bringing in global, cultural, and religious conflicts: the ravages of WWII, the Holy See somehow coming into ownership of this particular piece, the fact that both Israel and Germany want the piece given to them, and the Vatican’s very surprising decision as to where it should end up.
“Present Perfect” deals with inner conflict and a guilty conscience helped along by the haunting voice of an opinionated mother. David lives a simple, predictable, and boring life, until one day he and his co-workers win the lottery. His winnings become an obsession and something he doesn’t immediately spend, as he can still hear his mother’s voice spouting the evils of gambling. Eventually he does start to enjoy the things his winnings can buy, and continues to play the lottery, increasing his gambling, and remaining haunted by the voice–now in turmoil not because he lives poorly, but because he doesn’t due to his gambling.
Growing up, Sasha Gittal, the character in “Teetering on the Brink” had been the neighborhood beauty until a wartime accident disfigured her and made her an amputee. Now, she spends her days alone in her apartment, hiding her pain in food, her doctor warning that her gluttony is becoming a slow suicide. The reader is taken through Sasha’s typical day, and then completely blindsided by an ending they won’t see coming.
These are just a few samplings of the 22 stories in this dark, yet enlightening compilation. Admittedly, it is a bit of a dark read, as not all of the endings are happy, some are perplexing, and others force you to examine the characters, their lives, and the events depicted in the story. Also, many of the main characters are living drab lives or have been the victim of negative experiences that forever altered their lives. But the enlightening part is that they find a way to make peace with that and find some way to make peace with their dreams and their realities–no matter how different.
This book will tug at your emotions, surprise you, and perhaps maybe even make you take a second look at your own dreams and inspire you to continue to pursue them, if for no other reason, simply because you can–while some of these characters couldn’t.
I won’t soon forget some of these characters and one ending line from one of the stories that made me sad, but also determined to continue my own dreams:
“The candle went out. Udi got up, brushed off the remnants of dreams and as usual returned to his family to continue with his life.”