Pale of Settlement
Publication Year: 2007
This collection of linked short stories takes its title from the name of the western border region of the Russian empire within which Jews were required to live during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Susan, the stories’ main character, is a woman trapped in her own border region between youth and adulthood, familial roots in the Middle East and a typical American existence, the pull of Jewish tradition and the independence of a secular life.
In “Helicopter Days,” Susan discovers that the Israeli cousin she grew up with has joined a mysterious cult. “Lila’s Story” braids Susan’s memories of her grandmother--a German Jew arriving in Palestine to escape the Holocaust--with the story of her own affair with a married man and an invented narrative of her grandmother’s life. In “Borderland,” while trekking in Nepal, Susan meets an Israeli soldier who carries with him the terrible burden of his experience as a border guard in the Gaza Strip. And in the haunting title story, bedtime tales are set against acts of terrorism and memories of a love beyond reach. The stories of The Pale of Settlement explore the borderland between Israelis and American Jews, emigrants and expatriates, and vanished homelands and the dangerous world in which we live today.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
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Many of the stories in this collection first appeared in journals (some in slightly different form): “Helicopter Days” in Ascent; “Reunification” in Agni; “Lila’s Story” in Shenandoah; “As Dawn Splits” (the first section of “Deir Yassin”) in the Mid-American Review; ...
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pp. 1- 21
The bomb went off downtown, near the entrance to the Haifa Carmelit subway, at 5:27 on a Friday morning in late June. It blew up a white Fiat and shattered the plate glass windows of the Bank Hapoalim branch across the intersection. It exploded a streetlight, ...
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pp. 22- 35
The Berlin Wall came down the year that they broke up. Her ex-boyfriend sent her photographs, a whole roll of film, close-ups of the graffiti, swirls and curves and curlicues, like strange ideograms. ...
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pp. 36- 57
In my memory, my grandmother is framed by flowers. Head-high stalks of gladioli, a backdrop of hibiscus, anemones at her feet. My grandmother is smiling, cheek to bloom. Here are the flowers still: tricolor lantana bordering the sidewalk, vermilion bougainvillea...
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pp. 58- 84
Susan could spot an Israeli anywhere. Among the tourists in the Thamel Backpacker’s Café—the familiar crowd of Germans and Australians, rangy kids and rugged types who looked ready to head up Everest at a sprint—he stood out right away: the ropy muscles, ...
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pp. 85- 116
All the way from New York to Tel Aviv, she keeps the box beneath the seat in front of her. She slips off her sandals and touches it with her toes. A movie flickers overhead; the darkened shades are rimmed with static slits of light. The man next to her guffaws into...
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pp. 117- 147
Avraham couldn’t find it anywhere. He remembered it clearly enough—a small fabric-bound diary, its pages wrinkled from the impression of a ballpoint pen, that he’d found in Leah’s old room, nearly forty years ago, as he was clearing out the Sanhedria flat. ...
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pp. 148- 165
What Leah remembered many years later was that it was May and it was snowing and throughout the city the branches on the budding trees were snapping under the weight of leaves and blossoms and the unexpected snow. She didn’t really remember the pain of ...
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pp. 166- 187
In the morning she pulled the news stories off the wire. There were always a few familiar bylines; the rest scrolled along her screen anonymous as soldiers, every sentence ranked and measured, every voice the same. Today, again, the news was the West Bank. Israeli...
The Pale of Settlement
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pp. 188- 211
Her mother told her bedtime stories. The stories were about her mother’s childhood and they were always sad. Her mother would sit on the edge of the bed and smooth her hand along the quilt. Once upon a time, she would begin, as if the stories might be made-up...
A Note on Sources
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In this work of fiction, I have drawn on and transformed a range of factual materials in an effort to render the historical, political, and intellectual context of these stories as accurately as possible. For the history of the founding of the state of Israel and the Arab-Israeli...
Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2007
Series Title: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction