● The Wanting
By Michael Lavigne
Schocken Books, 336 pages, $25.95
‘The Wanting” starts with a bang — literally — when a body part flies past the large plate-glass window of Roman Guttman’s office. Roman is pretty sure it was a head. He sees the head go by, then he hears the explosion; then his enormous window shatters, and just like that he becomes part of a larger story, another victim of a Jerusalem suicide bombing.
When he next becomes conscious, he’s in an ambulance with a giant piece of glass sticking out of his head and smaller pieces decorating his face and body. “One move and you could push that piece of glass right into your brain,” Moshe, the paramedic, says, but with a casual humor and lack of urgency that Roman finds reassuring.
The paramedic confirms that the explosion was, in fact, a Palestinian suicide terrorist who had detonated himself at the bus stop on the corner of Roman’s street. “But you knew that,” Moshe adds, “from the trajectory of the head I sent as a warning.”
It appears, later at the hospital, that Moshe doesn’t exist. No one else saw him. The hospital staff thinks Roman has been hallucinating. But Roman, whose disbelief in God has always been fanatical, disagrees nevertheless.
This little mystery — never solved, never meant to be solved — is a warning shot, like that head flying past the window, to announce that “The Wanting” isn’t necessarily going to confine itself to facts.
Three characters take turns narrating this story. Roman is an architect who was born and raised in Soviet Russia and had immigrated to Israel a dozen years earlier with his infant daughter, Anyusha.
The second narrator, Anyusha, now 13, is dealing with more than the usual adolescent confusion: Her mother, Collette, was a refusenik who was arrested, “tried” and imprisoned; she died soon afterward. Anyusha has no memories of her mother. What she does have is a lot of rage. In her opinion, Collette should have left the activist business the minute Anyusha was born.
The third is Amir Hamid, the dead suicide terrorist, whose soul is trapped somewhere nearby, condemned to hover over his surviving victims as they try to mend their broken bodies and lives.
These three have little in common, but at this moment in time, all happen to be searching for answers to unanswerable questions. And all have abruptly left normal life behind, throwing it overboard like ballast in their need to know now.
Roman wants to know what could possibly motivate the killing of innocent people. What crucial part of the killer had to be stunted or missing to see that as a rational choice? How could he do it?
Anyusha wants to know why her mother chose protest and arrest over her own child. And also: Is there a God? And also: If there is, what is His opinion of the violence that often seems the sole means of obeying His commands?
Amir’s question is a lot like Roman’s: How could he have done what he did? What was he thinking? And also: Why did Allah permit him to be born, filled with promise and talent and dreams, when he was fated to spend his life replacing carburetors and performing tune-ups at his father’s garage? How could He do that?