House on Endless Waters
Translated by Anthony Berris & Linda Yechiel
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication date: 3rd March 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction / WWII
Format read: paperback uncorrected proof
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via Better Reading
This unsettling discovery launches him into a fervent search for the truth, revealing Amsterdam's dark wartime history and the underground networks which hid Jewish children away from danger-but at a cost. The deeper into the past Yoel digs, the better he understands his mother's silence, and the more urgent the question that has unconsciously haunted him for a lifetime-Who am I?-becomes.
Part family mystery, part wartime drama, House on Endless Waters is an unforgettable meditation on identity, belonging, and the inextricable nature of past and present.
Yoel’s discovery on a trip to Amsterdam, the place of his birth, of old picture of his parents, his sister Nettie and a baby boy too young to be himself, sets off a crisis; of who am I?
Suddenly he feels he doesn’t know his mother. The woman he was so close to had secrets from him that went to the grave with her. With this new revelation he starts to question their close relationship.
Piecing together scraps of information from older sister, Nettie, Yoel returns to Amsterdam to write his greatest book ever and in the process discover his past.
Through her haunting prose Elon delivers a story of a displaced Yoel Blum, a man who is sensitive and deep feeling however finds he is unable to give of himself to others.
“…..only he alone is alone. So transparent and voiceless that he often thinks he doesn’t really exist.”
As Yoel writes his story it becomes a story within a story and at times his characters blend into his real life. Yoel, so immersed in his story, experiences bouts of paranoia and a sense of persecution when out in public.
Elon describes the beauty of present day Amsterdam whilst not denying the underlying horror of the past that still lingers. Through Yoel’s story we learn how slowly every freedom was taken from the Jewish citizens, first their rights, their passage and then their possessions.
I enjoyed the unique way Elon tied the two timelines together. They are not expressed in separate chapters however blend into each other blurring past and present, fact and fiction.
The character of Yoel is hard to connect with at first and I took pleasure in his growth from a closed man to one who appreciates those around him and started to open up a little.
House on Endless Waters is a fascinating tale of one man’s journey to unlock his past and discover his true self. Elon, in her unique writing style, brings to the fore stories that must never be forgotten.
House on Endless waters has been impeccably translated from Hebrew by Anthony Berris and Linda Yechiel and a big kudos must go to the translators for how seamlessly the story flows.
My rating 5/5
This review is part of the Passages to the Past Historical Fiction Challenge
Emuna Elon is an internationally bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist, journalist, and women's activist. Born in Jerusalem to a family of prominent rabbis and scholars, she was raised in Jerusalem and New York. She teaches Judaism, Hasidism, and Hebrew literature. Her first novel translated into English, If You Awaken Love, was a National Jewish Book Award finalist.