Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Feb. 23, 2007
The Palestinian Lover
by Sélim Nassib
Europa, 161 pp., $14.95Those of us old enough to remember the rather frumpy, grandmotherly figure of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, center stage during the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars, might find it hard to imagine her portrayal here as a young, vivacious, and beautiful object of affection. The author of this slim novel Lebanese-born, Paris-based Arab-Jewish journalist, Sélim Nassib is clear, however, in attributing much of that striking beauty to Meir's intensity, spirit, and self-confidence. Nonetheless, it's not hard to draw your own parallels between her doomed relationship with Palestinian aristocrat Albert Pharaon and the spiraling Arab-Jewish conflict that provides the context for this engaging tale. It's set between the end of World War I and the establishment of Israeli statehood in 1948, a time when European Jews both committed Zionists and reluctant Nazi refugees came in increasing numbers to settle in British-mandated Palestine. Within this charged environment, an unlikely love affair blossoms between the Golda Myerson and the cultured but alienated Palestinian banker Pharaon. While the drama of their relationship focuses the story, it is the turmoil of history unfolding that proves far more captivating. The most fascinating chapter depicts a lavish colonial event celebrating the king's birthday, where, in this dusty outpost of the empire, proper and aloof British diplomats mix with resplendent Arab royalty and scruffy Jewish nationalists, each side vying for political favor. It is here that the star-crossed lovers first meet. To his credit, Nassib is fairly even-handed in depicting both sides of the Arab-Jewish divide, and he avoids black-and-white characterizations. Pharaon is his most complexly drawn figure. Estranged from his family in Lebanon, he lives in a cliff-side mansion in Haifa. While his sentiments obviously lie with his own people, he is not above taking in Austrian refugees or falling in love with a Zionist. History would better remember the woman he loved who fulfilled the promise of her fictional portrayal by eventually becoming a prominent world leader. The real tragedy of this story, however, is still being played out in the bloody stalemate we see almost daily in the headlines.