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Pain
Cover of Pain
Pain
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
"Zeruya Shalev is one of my favorite contemporary writers, her work always spiky and original, and Pain is a searing book, a wild and ravenous story of family entanglement and impossible yearning." —Lauren Groff, author of Florida and Fates and Furies
A powerful, astute novel that exposes how old passions can return, testing our capacity to make choices about what is most essential in life.

Ten years after she was seriously injured in a terrorist attack, the pain comes back to torment Iris. But that is not all: Eitan, the love of her youth, also comes back into her life. Though their relationship ended many years ago, she was more deeply wounded when he left her than by the suicide bomber who blew himself up next to her.

Iris's marriage is stagnant. Her two children have grown up and are almost independent; she herself has become a dedicated, successful school principal. Now, after years without passion and joy, Eitan brings them back into her life. But she must concoct all sorts of lies to conceal her affair from her family, and the lies become more and more complicated.

Is this an impossible predicament, or on the contrary a scintillating revelation of the many ways life's twists and turns can bring us to a place we would never have expected to be?
"Zeruya Shalev is one of my favorite contemporary writers, her work always spiky and original, and Pain is a searing book, a wild and ravenous story of family entanglement and impossible yearning." —Lauren Groff, author of Florida and Fates and Furies
A powerful, astute novel that exposes how old passions can return, testing our capacity to make choices about what is most essential in life.

Ten years after she was seriously injured in a terrorist attack, the pain comes back to torment Iris. But that is not all: Eitan, the love of her youth, also comes back into her life. Though their relationship ended many years ago, she was more deeply wounded when he left her than by the suicide bomber who blew himself up next to her.

Iris's marriage is stagnant. Her two children have grown up and are almost independent; she herself has become a dedicated, successful school principal. Now, after years without passion and joy, Eitan brings them back into her life. But she must concoct all sorts of lies to conceal her affair from her family, and the lies become more and more complicated.

Is this an impossible predicament, or on the contrary a scintillating revelation of the many ways life's twists and turns can bring us to a place we would never have expected to be?
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Excerpts-
  • From the book ONE

    Here it is, back again, and although she's been expecting it for years, she is surprised. Back again as if it never let go, as if she didn't live a day without it, a month without it, a year; after all, exactly ten years have passed since then. Mickey had asked, "Remember today's date?" as if it were a birthday or an anniversary, and she wracked her memory—they were married in winter, met the winter before that, the children were born in winter, nothing noteworthy occurred in their lives in the summer despite its length, which seems to call for countless events—and Mickey looked down, his gaze on her hips, which have thickened since then, and all at once the pain was back and she remembered.
    Or did she remember first, and then the pain came back? Because she has never forgotten, so it wasn't actually remembering, but rather existing totally in that burning moment, in the dawning recognition of the cataclysm, in the ghostly storm of panic, the solemn inertness of the silence: no bird sang, no hawk soared, no bull roared, no ministering angels spoke holy words, the sea did not roil, people did not speak—the world was utterly still.
    In time, she realized that silence was the one thing that hadn't been there, but nonetheless, only the silence was burned into her memory: mute angels came and bandaged her wounds silently, amputated limbs burned noiselessly and their owners observed them with sealed mouths, white ambulances sailed soundlessly along the streets, a narrow, winged gurney floated toward her and she was lifted up and placed on it, and the moment she was detached from the blazing asphalt was the moment the pain was born.
    She had given birth to two children, and yet didn't recognize it when she experienced it for the first time in all its power, drilling into the core of her body, sawing her bones, pulverizing them into thin powder, trampling muscles, ripping out tendons, crushing tissue, tearing nerves, brutalizing the internal pulp she had never paid attention to, the stuff a person is made of. Only the organs above the neck had interested her, the skull and the brain inside it, consciousness and intelligence, knowledge and judgment, choice, identity, memory, and now she had nothing but that pulp, nothing but the pain.
    "What happened?" he asks, and is immediately mortified. "What an idiot I am, I shouldn't have reminded you." And she leans on the wall near the door—they are on their way out of the house, each to his place of work—trying to point to the kitchen chairs with her eyes, and he hurries to the kitchen and returns with a glass of water, which she can't hold because her hand is sliding down the wall.
    "Chair," she gasps, and he drags one toward her. But to her surprise, he sits down on it heavily, as if he is the one now suddenly seized by the pain, as if he is the one who had been there that morning exactly ten years ago when the powerful shockwaves of the explosion on the nearby bus hurled her out of her car onto the asphalt. And in fact, if it weren't for a last-minute change, he would have been there instead of her, floating in the fiery air like a huge asteroid, landing with a bang among the burning bodies.
    And really, why wasn't he the one to take the children to school as he did every morning? She remembers an urgent call from the office, a glitch in a program, a system that crashed. He intended to drive them anyway, but Omer still wasn't dressed, jumping in his pajamas on their double bed, and she wanted to avoid tears and reprimands. "Never mind, I'll take them," she said, which of course did not prevent the regular morning argument with Omer, who locked himself in the...
About the Author-
  • Zeruya Shalev was born at Kibbutz Kinneret. She is the author of four previous novels, The Remains of Love, Love Life, Husband and Wife, and Thera, and a book of poetry and two children's books. Her work has been translated into twenty-seven languages and won multiple awards, including the Corine International Book Prize, the Welt Literature Award, and the Prix Femina étranger.
    Sondra Silverston has translated the work of Israeli fiction writers such as Etgar Keret, Savyon Liebrecht, and Aharon Megged. Her translation of Amos Oz's Between Friends won the National Jewish Book Award for fiction in 2013. Born in the United States, she has lived in Israel since 1970.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2019
    A middle-aged woman confronts her first love. As a teenager, Iris meets the love of her life: Eitan, a thin, gangly boy caring for his sick mother. They plan to get married, but after Eitan's mother dies, he tells Iris he can't see her anymore--she reminds him too much of his grief. Thirty years later, Iris is married, with two children, and principal of a rigorous Jerusalem school. She is 10 years past a terrible injury sustained when a suicide bomber blew up a bus, but she is still haunted by pain. Iris' relationship with her husband, Mickey, is tepid, and her feelings for her children are clouded by disappointment: They aren't the children she'd have had with Eitan, after all. Then, unexpectedly, Iris runs into Eitan, and all the passion her life has been lacking rushes back. Shalev's (The Remains of Love, 2013, etc.) latest novel to appear in English is primarily concerned with the nature of that passion. Should Iris go back to Eitan, or should she stick with the life she's built? While she's trying to decide, that life seems to be splintering: Any day now, her son is due to be drafted, and her daughter seems to have fallen under the sway of a charismatic, cultlike leader. Shalev's depiction of Iris' tortured, conflicting thoughts is convincing, if claustrophobic. We're stuck in Iris' mind for the duration of the novel, and the result can feel somewhat stifling. Then, too, since the novel begins at a high pitch, as it goes higher and higher, the prose starts to feel hyperbolic. Shalev is a vivid and impassioned writer, but her latest novel, by its end, seems both airless and overheated.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 30, 2019
    Shalev’s exhausting fifth novel (after Love Life) rides “waves of pain... drawing the map” of the lives of Iris, survivor of a Jerusalem bomb attack, and her damaged family. Confronting the return of pain from her old injuries, which coincides with the return of her childhood sweetheart Eitan, Iris, a dedicated school principal, must decide whether the life she has built since Eitan left her decades earlier is worth salvaging. Her husband, Mickie, who is obsessed with online chess, annoys her. Her son, Omer, though a handful as a child, no longer needs her. And her daughter, Alma, apparently caught up in the orbit of an exploitative guru, has moved to Tel Aviv. Charting Iris’s foray into infidelity and chronicling the increasing danger of Alma’s situation, the author heaps her characters’ grievances onto a pyre of discontent, until the story collapses into a tedious litany of physical, mental, and emotional suffering. Too earnest in her descriptions of love rediscovered, and drowning Iris in torment, Shalev sabotages her sometimes fine writing by long-winded, explanatory preaching. A pristine observation—“She was wrong, those weren’t nuts in her mouth, they were ice cubes”—is marred, for instance, by the paragraph of explanation that follows, exemplifying an overall fault of the book. This relentless exposé of affliction in all its iterations is undone by its lack of trust in its readers.

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2019

    Injured in a terrorist bombing ten years earlier, Iris, a school principal living in Jerusalem, finds her chronic pain returning just as she's feeling alienated from her family. Her marriage has grown stale, her daughter, Alma, has moved to Tel Aviv, and her son will soon be inducted into the army. A search for relief from her pain leads her to a chance meeting with her first love, Eitan, and she rushes headlong into an affair. When Alma's problems encroach on her idyllic romance, can Iris remain true to her revived younger self and still help her daughter and perhaps heal her family? Anyone picking up a book titled Pain should expect a fair amount of anguish, and the book has little joy or levity. Even the headiness of the affair is shadowed by Iris's despair over her family troubles and regrets over losing the years she could have had with Eitan if they hadn't parted when they were young. VERDICT Essentially a midlife crisis novel with a lot of meditation over choice and chance and how they impact what follows, this story by Shalev (The Remains of Love) effectively depicts contemporary Israeli life but is a bit of a downer.--Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    October 15, 2019
    After her oblivious husband asks, Remember today's date? physical pain and emotionally wrenching retrospection swamp Iris, a successful school principal. Exactly ten years earlier she survived a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, then endured surgeries that had sewn, screwed and implanted her together again. On this anniversary, excruciating pain returns. Visiting a pain specialist, she encounters her first love, the man who abandoned her at 17, a shock that had put her into a near-coma for weeks. She has been on hold for him in her heart for almost three decades. Fevered and laced with painkillers, Iris experiences intimate reconnections with Eitan that verge on fantasy. She wrestles with the pointlessness of life, the ambivalence she feels toward her children and husband, and the allure of a second chance at life with "PAIN," the name that appears when her returned lover texts or calls. Weaving a complex meditation on the intricate ripples of cause and effect in our lives, Israeli author Shalev (The Remains of Love, 2013) explores how each of us is both wounded and wounding.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • New York Times Book Review "Shalev reminds readers in keen, often brilliant prose that love, like pain, is indelible...a riveting exploration of family, sex and motherhood."
  • The Guardian, Best New Books in Translation "Always incisive on the complexities of family and relationship dynamics...Shalev plunges the reader into a whirlwind story of impossible choices."
  • Times Literary Supplement "Shalev is especially attentive to the way that wounds never completely vanish, causing infinitely splintering recriminations and deliberations, and to the nuances of marriage, motherhood, middle-age and middle-class ennui. Iris's spinning, capricious internal monologue is evoked with a dreamlike intensity...Pain burrows under the skin."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Shalev is a vivid and impassioned writer."
  • Foreword Reviews "With its heady musings on what makes love pure, Pain is a blistering novel that pits passion against ordinary commitments."
  • Booklist "A complex meditation on the intricate ripples of cause and effect in our lives."
  • Library Journal "A midlife crisis novel with a lot of meditation over choice and chance and how they impact what follows, this story by Shalev...effectively depicts contemporary Israeli life."
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