In this coming of age story, Miriam, a young Jewish girl, discovers her love of painting, and follows her heart, from Romania to Israel to the US.
Starting in the 1950’s, in a politically hostile Romania, the story is as much about finding our place in the world, especially as an immigrant, as it is about finding love. Alexander has a lovely way with words, showing his ability to describe the experience of belonging and feeling out of place. His prose is expressive and thoughtful.
The plot takes Miriam from a short lived romance with her first art tutor, to a married plastic surgeon, amongst others, and then to Johnathan, a man whose job is mysterious, but lucrative. During this time, her trips back home to her family are strained by her feelings of no longer belonging there, of being too big for her old life.
There’s something about Miriam that feels more and more selfish as time goes on. Perhaps it is the way that she often complains or takes her time when people are waiting on her. She demands a lot of the people around her, and I found her to be not all that relatable in that respect. For almost the whole book she is a woman whose life is paid for by the men that she is with, wealthy men who are in fact are married to other people. In fact, her first lover is a boy who already has a fiancee. She never feels a moments remorse about her behaviour, or even seems to think about the future all that much. In essence, her whole life is about her relationships with men that she can benefit from financially, though she clearly cares for them very much in the moment, and though she calls herself a painter, she spends very little time making anything.
She’s a character who isn’t out to get anyone, or hurt anyone, but probably wouldn’t notice if she did.
Where the book shines is in it’s exploration of alienation, and social and political climates and change, and I quite enjoyed reading this book and immersing myself in the experience of others, it was insightful. But after a while, sadly, I found Miriam herself a bit irritating.