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Open Heart Doubleday 1st edition Abraham B. Yehoshua

31st August 2012 Literature & Fiction 24 Comments

Journeying to India to retrieve his superior’s seriously ill daughter, gifted physician Benjy falls deeply in love with his superior’s wife, a situation that becomes complicated when he himself becomes dangerously ill. 20,000 first printing. Tour.

Unlike Yehoshua’s previous books, the motives of his central character in his fifth novel, Open Heart, appear unrelated to the larger social changes in Israeli society. During an assignment to India, Dr. Benjamin Rubin falls in love with the country’s spiritual mystery and the nurturing sexuality of his patient’s mother. In looking to the East for enlightenment, he neglects his religious heritage, even as others are reclaiming traditional Jewish culture. As he immerses himself in newfound religion, one is forced to wonder if Rubin is genuinely acknowledging the self’s larger place in the cosmos or is simply on an opportunistic venture to mask his own impoverished spirit.

The irrational, untamable power of love becomes almost palpable in Israeli novelist Yehoshua’s intense novel of forbidden passion, obsession and spiritual yearning. Its introspective, ironic narrator, Benjamin Rubin (Benjy), an internist in surgery at a Tel Aviv hospital, is asked by the hospital director, Dr. Lazar, to accompany him to a remote town in India where Lazar’s college-dropout daughter, Einat, is suffering from acute hepatitis and urgently needs medical care. Benjy, 29, falls madly in love?not with Einat, whose life he saves, but with Dori, Lazar’s matronly, spoiled, ordinary, 50-ish wife, whom he beds once. When she rejects his passion as impossible and silly, Benjy hastily marries hippie-like, kibbutz-raised Michaela, who espouses Hindu religious concepts and works with the “sidewalk doctors” of Calcutta. They have a daughter, Shivi, but, despite their sexual rapport and mutual affection, theirs is not a marriage of love. When Lazar requires open-heart surgery, Benjy, who takes part in the operation, must ask himself whether he truly wants to save the man or whether he wishes Lazar dead so that he can pursue his impossible love for Dori. At times, Benjy’s minute self-analysis is wearying, and it’s tempting to dismiss his problems as a passing Oedipal fixation. Mostly, however, Yehoshua (Mr. Mani) mingles fascinating medical detail with the story of one man seeking to open his own heart to life’s possibilities, including pain. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Unlike Yehoshua’s previous books, the motives of his central character in his fifth novel, Open Heart, appear unrelated to the larger social changes in Israeli society. During an assignment to India, Dr. Benjamin Rubin falls in love with the country’s spiritual mystery and the nurturing sexuality of his patient’s mother. In looking to the East for enlightenment, he neglects his religious heritage, even as others are reclaiming traditional Jewish culture. As he immerses himself in newfound religion, one is forced to wonder if Rubin is genuinely acknowledging the self’s larger place in the cosmos or is simply on an opportunistic venture to mask his own impoverished spirit.

Open Heart

  • 24 responses to "Open Heart Doubleday 1st edition Abraham B. Yehoshua"

  • Eat it.
    4:43 on August 31st, 2012
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    I read “A Journey to the End of the Millenium” several months ago and even now it still sits clearly etched in my mind as one of the most enjoyable and astounding reads in recent memory. I recommended it to one very special friend and she too felt that way. Yehoshua’s gift is to take us back to a time and a place so different than our modern times and gently and humorously and with vivid detail lead us into this world. Nothing is taken for granted and we are introduced to the smells, sights, winds, nature, food,travel and people’s attitudes about love, health, death, sex, spirituality, clothes, justice, kindness and everything else that is of importance now and 1,000 years ago. NOthing is omitted. It is so well “painted” that it almost feels as if he was there or at least was talking to his very real characters over time. Yehoshua deals with such spiritual themes as “loshon hora” or evil tongue both between Jews and Jews and Jews and Gentiles, treating one’s spouse(s), fair business dealings, Jewish ritual, and justice both religous and civil. He deals with the Ashkenazic/Sephardic relationship in a way that illustrates the deep rootededness of some of the differences. All of this takes place over the course of a trip from the Sephardic regions of North Africa through Spain, France and into Eastern Europe. Of course, it is at the eve of the Crusades and arguably a dark age so the story is fraught with a real sense of danger and adventure. There is also, as I experienced it, a continual dichotomy between the forces of enlightenment and darkness in the story. It is unusual to read a book with enough “soul” to make you feel persoanlly uplifted all wrapped up in a hugely entertaining story. One of the best historical novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Obviously the author’s humor, style and skill came through the translator perfectly. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and it has started me on a journey of Mr. Yehoshua’s work.

  • biber hap
    5:31 on August 31st, 2012
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    With this novel, Yehoshua again returns to exploring the themes of Love and Identity, this time in a more intimate setting. The impossible, almost grotesque love of a young doctor (Benjy) to the middle-aged mother of his patient is described in detailed realism, yet the story is imbued with a sense of mysticism and mystery. Identities and feelings are exchanged and mixed through blood transfusions, and Love invades one’s being as if from an external source. Yehoshua captures the profound mystery permeating “regular” people and situations. The many faces of Love, as well as its imitations, limitations and glaring absences are examined without flinching. Benjy is torn between desolate loneliness and identity-devouring symbiosis; the alternative path of co-existence with autonomy (offered by the independent Michaela) seems to him somehow incompatible with Love.
    The Hebrew title of this novel is “The Return from India”; passages infused with Eastern spirituality and the transmigration of souls contrast with minute, surgically-precise medical descriptions and all-too-earthly human ambitions and professional rivalries. The narrative unfolds slowly, luxuriously, allowing the reader to become completely immersed in Yehoshua’s world. A wonderful, richly rewarding book.

  • Dave Armon
    11:03 on August 31st, 2012
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    After reading this book, I have wanted to travel to India-that is how fascinating and compelling the descriptions were; plus, while reading, the charcters’ obsession for India, and what it stands for to them, evokes more empathy for the characters, and their story. The character portrayals are very realistic. I did not always like the characters, but I could visualize them. The story is very compelling. Even if the main character is not sympathetic (and actually very annoying at times), those around him are sympathetic; they are less complicated and more fanciful. What is interesting is how one can see the characters as Benjamin sees them, but without his influence. So, even if Benjy looks down on them, we, as readers, do not have to join him.

  • KryKey
    11:30 on August 31st, 2012
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    Yeah, yeah, so his prose is beautiful. But how much of this long-winded writing is the reader supposed to endure? I liked the first half of the book very much, but then I kept thinking, “Get to the point, already!” (And he never really did in some ways. We never found out in any specific way what happened when Jesus didn’t make his reappearance, or even why this book needed to be set in 999.) It never occurred to me until I read other Amazon reviewers that the wives had no names. Duh! But this is a fable after all and in 999 maybe wives’ names were less important. I found the characters very interesting, but really struggled to finish the book. Yehoshua is a very creative writer, trying new techniques in each of his books, but a novel without dialogue is hard to carry off successfully.

  • ppadvisory
    14:47 on August 31st, 2012
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    The positive reviews are right. This is a marvelous book. It weaves a medieval tapestry series from strands of religious law and religious conflict, gender and sexuality, geography and climate, race, culture and ethnicity. Its world — Paris, Worms and Tangiers in the year 999 C.E. — is well-researched and vividly imagined. This world feels strange and, at times, truly frightening in its prmitiveness. But it is also very, very familiar. The parallels it draws between Y1K and Y2K are subtle, but they are very much there. This book is dealing with very important issues. It will be with me for a long time.

  • Jonathan Huie
    16:54 on August 31st, 2012
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    Yehoshua is considered by literary critics as the Israeli Faulkner. His last book is the story of a North African Jewish merchant, Ben attar, who sets himself on a long journey not only in search of new markets for his precious African goods but mainly to attempt a return of his nephew, Abulafia, into the partnerhsip. The schism took place when Esther-Minna, wife to Abulafia, becomes aware of the fact that Ben Attar is bigamous. Historically set in the year 999, the plot represents the cultural clash between North African Jews (Sephardic) and European Jews (Ashkenazi), between secular and orthodox. As a secular Israeli novelist, the author does not spare his harsh judgement of what he regards as ultra-orthodox Judaism’s idolatry of the law, at the same time projecting the preocuppations of his own era. Although the prose is rich, the narrative is tedious to the extent that the author might attempt to adjust the reader to a different pace in life, the one prevalent in 999 AC. Yehoshua is an innovator in terms of syntax, shows a subtle stain of humor, and extensively uses hidden metaphors. He explores human psyche to its depth, clearly showing that grief and passions cannot be disguised.

  • support
    17:13 on August 31st, 2012
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    I bought this book after reading the very contradictory Amazon reviews, largely because I have loved Yehoshua’s other books and because I’m interested in the area and period of history covered in the book (10th Century Morocco, Spain and France). I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed in any important aspect of this enjoyable novel. It’s true that the 100% narrative form that the author uses here can be daunting at times, but the richness and evocativeness of his language overcomes that challenge wonderfully.

    There is so much to learn culturally and historically from this book, which pivots on the concept of duality throughout the story. Not the least of which is the effectively portrayed contrast between the socially, materially and culturally advanced south (Spain and Morocco) and the feudal and repressed north (France and Germany).

    I can’t add much more to the excellent reviews already posted here except to say that I enthusiastically join the side of those who enjoyed the book and praised it lavishly. It is a fine work by a wonderful writer who always sees all facets of an object and gives his readers a challenge through the complex humanity of his characters and the tales of their lives and interactions. Highly recommended.

  • Dave G
    23:32 on August 31st, 2012
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    This is a wonderful novel by one of the worlds best novelists. Though he is a past master of dialogue of all sorts, here he abandons it to filter everything through the mind of the storyteller. It has the flavor of a romance and through the quixotic main character makes us see how close comedy and tragedy are and how a tiny change of perspective could make a Captain Ahab into a Don Quixote and vice versa. Though it takes place 1000 years ago in the Middle Ages, it is full of implications about the whole nature of identity and the present relations between East and West, law and desire, sexuality and religion, and so on, but all the ideological concerns are presented gracefully and subtly, so that we remain fascinated, surprised, and delighted by the adventure itself.

  • Seen It All B
    2:24 on September 1st, 2012
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    Some members of my book group found the language and complex sentence structure challenging or even slow going at first. But my own reaction was that the writing was both beautiful and (presumably) intended to evoke to some degree the profoundly different pace and feeling of life in the 10th century — and it seems to do so. There is, I think, a subtle strain of humor that challenges a reader to discover it. Note: it is interesting to consider some of the evocations of events that were to occur in the 20th century, particularly the two great wars, and some similarities between this book and Auden’s poem “Musee des Beaux Arts”, written on the eve of the second World War. The ambiguity of the ending stimulated much discussion. I found it more bleak than others wanted to acknowledge.

  • 5:10 on September 1st, 2012
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    I agree with the opinions written. However, I would like to ask what people think of the ending. What is your opinion of exactly how it ended? Maybe i lost interest and didn’t look closely enough. thanks

  • Jason Krebs
    9:16 on September 1st, 2012
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    This book is the recipient of the Koret Foundation and National Foundation for Jewish Culture Book Award for Best Jewish Fiction Book of 1999

  • Bruno Scharp
    11:52 on September 1st, 2012
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    I sank into Open Heart with delight, having just finished Journey to the End of the Millenium, a wonderful book. Yehoshua’s humor and sophistication won me over in both books. He knows people. And the translations were excellent. Still, the final pages of Open Heart were a big disappointment: it was as though he’d had to rush off and couldn’t be bothered to finish what he’d started.

  • Stacy Montgomery
    14:43 on September 1st, 2012
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    Many of the other reviewers here must be too young to understand the important topics at hand. There are too many of them to be discussed here, but let me give you one, just for instance.

    Why are the names of the wives not revealed? As you get deeper into the novel you realize that the two wives are the same wife, the only wife. A man who truly loves a woman loves her for what she truly is, her essence.

    If you are an older woman, you will know that you are not just who you are now, but also who you were then, a younger woman still existing in the old, despite appearences. And the carnal and the spiritual exist together in the essence.

    Also, on another level, this is an historic tale of 999, when many Christians predicted the end of the world and an extermination of non-believers, when many held to the letter of the Holy Scripture as a justification of owning slaves and multiple wives. This book takes a sharp look at the conflict between tradition and the evolution of law, and helps us bring current conflicts into focus.

    Yehoshua is a something of a magician, a master of misdirection who hides the duality of his intent until the reader is ready. Then everything clicks into place. This is a novel you’ll want to read again just to see how he does it.

  • No way.
    16:23 on September 1st, 2012
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    What reeks, what is fragrant, and what simply smells unpleasant are graphically presented, if that is possible. Sleep habits of the characters– their movements and sounds — are also described. The brightest of yellows, reds, magentas seem even brighter when contasted with the grey rainy skies and black robes of medieval Jews.

    How does Yehoshua do it? The result is a particularly intense reality. .

  • Terence Roberts
    19:42 on September 1st, 2012
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    Well, I guess it takes all kinds… I disagree with the most recent reviewer. I enjoyed JOURNEY immensely. It is not meant to be a work of realism, but rather a mystical and metaphoric trip into the darkness of our past. As such, it succeeds wonderfully. It is a richly rewarding, evocative book, at once subtle and complex.

  • censeo
    20:47 on September 1st, 2012
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    The central pivot upon which the plot depends is disgusting, unbelievable, but, oddly, did NOT keep me from finishing the book, which was a page-turner. I read ALL 500 pages with interest; there was something engaging on each page. However, the book is marred by its plot device of having a 29 year old medical resident fall in lust with his hospital administator’s wife. The wife is always presented as helpless, dependent, stubborn, plumpish and with her belly hanging out, so that the constant refrain of Dr. Rubin’s love for this woman made him and all else seem contrived and ridiculous. The odd thing is that Yehoshua is aware of, and harps on, the inexplicable nature of Rubin’s love, so that I realized the book is supposed to be symbolic: the “impossible” love standing for spiritual reality, which also seems “impossible;” but, in order for that unspoken comparison to work, there has to be credibility in the plot. The plot is only credible in those portions where Yehoshua did a lot of research to make the medical angle resonate; but the plump, self-absorbed love-object, Dori, remains completely unappealing throughout, yet Dr. Rubin thinks of little else. The lust the young doctor developes and pursues with this woman makes him dishonest, dishonorable, compulsive, and immoral. The author tries to insert the idea that Lazar’s soul has taken over young Rubin, but this is toward the end and is unconvincing and contrived. I don’t know why I finished the book. I did not mind the ending at all. The helpless, narcissistic “Dori” finally -on almost the last page- says she wants to be alone. Her horror of being alone was also the main attraction for her husband, who – she finally says- smoothered her with his love. I found the woman repugnant, which is also Dr. Rubin’s first impression. Their trip to India, somehow, is supposed to account for his flip-flop into love. Dori’s husband, we find, used to put his entire hospital at her disposal, she being unable to write bills, use household applicances, etc. Rubin, in picking up the director’s soul- would naturally want to clean up after this pampered and stupid woman, making him a suitable companion. He ends up -to wind down the plot- too much like Lazar. I found it impossible to believe that a woman married almost 40 years would respond to Rubin at all, or that Rubin would be struck by her, even on a soul level. That Dori finally says something that makes sense at the end, and Rubin will be able to let go of his passion, thanks to his own mother retreiving his own daughter from India, where his crazy wife has taken her, is a good ending for a senseless plot.

  • gttyildexbx
    21:12 on September 1st, 2012
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    While studying in Israel I took a class with A.B. Yehoshua. I became interested in his writing, and I have read almost everything that he has written. His writing is always beautiful and mesmorizing. This book is his best. The story holds you from beginning to end, and excites your imagination. Yehoshua’s writing has a way of transporting you into the world of the characters. I would give it a 10, except for the fact the ending is a little disappointing. Other than the ending I absolutely loved this book and strongly recommend it along with any of his other books.

  • Invest & Win
    21:43 on September 1st, 2012
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    This novel is one of rich prose, beautifully drawn characters and exotic images. In it, the Yehoshua presents a view of 10th century Europe and the interaction of people unexpectedly flung about by the interactions of their cultural points of view. The sensations are strong: exotic scenes of African culture being transported to Europe, sensual couplings, inter- and intra religious conflict, the destruction of close relationships. In the novel, a Morrocan Jewish merchant, Ben Attar, travels with his two wives to Paris intent on salvaging his personal and business relationship with his nephew, Abulafia, now a resident of Paris and recently married to a Jewess from what is now Germany. Because Ben Attar is a bigamist, Abulafia’s wife insists that their business and personal relationship be ended. During the sea voyage to Europe, Yehoshua eloquently describes the culture of the Morrocan Jew: flexible, tolerant and richly sensual. However, when the African and European cultures meet face to face, there are profound and sometimes terrible consequences, some of them never to be reversed. Throughout, the the writing is subtle and elegant, and the book has layer upon layer of meaning which the author leaves to the reader to interpret. Although the book has specific Jewish content, the ideas and story are also secular. It was a treat to read and I was left wanting more. Serious and thought-provoking writing.

  • Ben Forrester
    6:47 on September 2nd, 2012
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    A great, great book–vivid enough to make you feel as if you have gone back in time and are not reading so much as watching; poignant enough to wisely comment on Jewish lives today. It has been a long time since I read a narrative as quietly rich and impressive as this.

  • Amada Demonte
    10:07 on September 2nd, 2012
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    The plots and characters in this book are awkward and unbelievable
    enough to seriously weaken the book, no matter how many interesting
    details Yehoshua weaves in. I could not maintain sympathy for the
    characters because I couldn’t make sense of their actions either in
    the context (as much as I could imagine) of their age or in light of
    our own.

  • kevind
    11:41 on September 2nd, 2012
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    Overall, both on the level of style, delivery, character development, pacing and plot, Open Heart is disappointing. Yehoshua is a master of the complex style of fiction; of breaking up a narrative, of exploring the perimeters of what makes a novel tick. Here there is none of that. There are peculiar, italicized beginnings to each chapter, which appear to do little in the way of clarifying what happens within, and as an experiment, leaves the reader scratching his or her head. The novel is overwritten; some very beautiful bits of writing about India are sandwiched between much material that is overwrought and unnecessary.

    One quality redeems: The novel is a convincing narrative of a young surgeon. Yehoshua did his homework, mastering the terminology and mind set of the working doctor. But even that can not save this novel from mediocrity. Open Heart is not this author’s best work; and certainly, should be placed low on any reading list of his work.

  • Katrina Sawa
    14:41 on September 2nd, 2012
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    I read Open Heart after having taken a course with AB Yehoshua and after having read Mr. Mani, A Late Divorce, and The Lover, and found it the least satisfactory of these four novels. (I would give the other 3 five stars.) I found the narrator annoying and his relationship with the fifty year old woman unconvincing. I think Yehoshua is brilliant at depicting all kinds of people except middle aged women, and I don’t think he really understood how a woman would react under such circumstances. However, I loved the descriptions of India, and thought the prose style in general made the book worth reading.

  • Rufus Mingee
    15:18 on September 2nd, 2012
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    I’ve been struggling with this book in conjunction with Mr Mani, as part of a paper on Sephardic identity in the writing of A B Yehoshua. Strangely, I find myself agreeing with both the positive and negative reviews – which strongly suggests that the book is a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts! As with Mr Mani, the historical detail is excellent. Even given the tedious nature of a narrative style with no dialogue, ABY succeeds in painting a tremendously powerful and engaging portrait of the Mediterranean and North European world of 999 AD, As an historical epic, if you can get past the boredom threshold somewhere around the middle of the book, it succeeds quite well. But ABY’s forte is in the internal journey into the human psyche. Mr Mani is an excellent example – probably the best – of ABY’s virtuosity at peeling off the layers of human motivation in all their complexity and, very often, perversity. In contrast, this novel depicts a somewhat stereotyped cultural clash between individuals. Anyone familiar with Israeli literature in the past 25 years will also be familiar with the general thrust of the argument. Ashkenazi culture denies the depth and breadth of Sephardi culture. It ignores the cultural heritage of Sephardi Jews, which certainly up to the first millenium and well beyond, held sway over Ashkenazi Jewry. Ashkenazi culture has a tendency to introversion and rejection,whereas Sephardi culture is expansive and interactive, especially with regard to Islam… and so on, and so forth. The hegemonic Ashkenazic view of Sephardi history and culture has been comprehensively deconstructed over the last twenty five years – why go over this ground, especially when in Mr Mani he has already ‘deconstructed the deconstruction’ by dissecting the history and psychopathology of a high status Sephardi family so comprehensively and brilliantly? As for the dual marriage thing, well I think there’s a limit to most people’s cultural relativism – especially most women’s! It just doesn’t work, not as love story and certainly not as erotic writing. Its unlike ABY to fob us off with stereoyped based narrative in order to score ideological points. So… a reasonably good read, but well below top form for the master.

  • GoGoIPO
    20:38 on September 2nd, 2012
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    I cannot understand people reading the book and not realizing the brilliance of it.
    Some have written about the qualities of the book, I just want to say that anyone reading it would add a serious piece of literature into his/her pantheon.
    Read, read, read…

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