Review: Evacuation by Raphaël Jerusalmy

Erich Mayer

There are many layers to this excellent short novel published by text Publishing.
Review: Evacuation by Raphaël Jerusalmy

Book cover image of Evacuation by Raphaël Jerusalmy via text Publishing.

From the outset, Raphaël Jerusalmy tells his readers that Saba is the Hebrew word for grandfather. He uses this Hebrew name for grandfather throughout the novel, rather than the French in which it was originally written or an English version of the word. Possibly there are overtones to the meaning of Saba which are lost in translation. Whether that is so or not, the Saba of this story is a loveable and knowledgeable eccentric and many a family would readily adopt him. 

Saba’s grandson, Naor, is driving his mother from where she lives at the Ein Harod Kibbutz to Tel Aviv. (A map is provided so you can see the route.) On the way he tells her what happened to him, to his girlfriend, Yaël and to Saba after the order was given to evacuate Tel Aviv because of the war. For a variety of reasons Naor, Yaël and Saba stay on in the almost deserted city although they have the option to leave. 

There are many layers to this short novel. There is the story of three people, who love and respect each other, coping with a precarious existence in a city under intermittent bombardment. They handle this sometimes fearfully and at other times almost with glee. Even though they have to scavenge for food and water, they also decide to make a movie on Saba’s phone – one that symbolises departing this world for whatever comes thereafter, a not inappropriate subject considering where they are.

On another level, Evacuation sensitively explores attitudes to death. How is the danger of imminent death viewed when you are old and terminally ill? How is it viewed when you are young and living in a war zone? How is it viewed by someone who sees the flowers in a gift as torn ‘out of the ground to die a horrible death in a vase?'

Then there is the question of war. ‘The missile attacks had started up again and had escalated in intensity –  as a prelude to the peace talks, and to a possible ceasefire’.

Naor, Yaël, and Saba each cope in their own way with the risks of living in a war zone. Naor wants to leave Tel Aviv but the three remain even though the option to leave such a dangerous place remains open. The reasons for their choice illuminate the problems of collective decision-making.

On the political level, Saba believes the Israelis ‘had got stuck in a stalemate’ with the Palestinians. ‘Zionism as an idea was not a failure,' according to Saba ‘but it had become unstuck in its application.'

The way Naor’s mother occasionally comments on Naor’s narrative adds warmth to the story, a story in which the love of Tel Aviv shines through, both the city as it once was and for the Tel Aviv it is now. But then this book is ultimately about love and war and the author – who also chooses to live in Tel Aviv – who clearly loves this complicated and fascinating cosmopolitan city himself, a city that could come under attack.

★★★★☆

Evacuation
By Raphaël Jerusalmy
Text Publishing
Paperback, 176pp
RRP $19.99

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog humblecomment.info