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Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo

 

Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo

Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo (Sara’s Picks)

Eshkol Nevo is a best-selling Israeli author whose books have earned top literary prizes and been translated into many languages. His latest book, Three Floors Up, is a psychological study of the residents of an apartment building in Tel Aviv. The building provides the structure of the novel and is comprised of three interconnected stories whose narrators live on the first, second, and third floors respectively. Each story takes the form of a confessional.

The book opens with the residents on the first floor. Arno is a retired military officer who served during the First Intifada.* The feeling of being under siege has never left him. Suspecting that his young daughter has been molested by a neighbor, and unable to control his obsessive and violent thoughts, his life devolves. The story is his account of events to an army buddy—all told from the perspective of a distraught, somewhat unhinged, father.

On the second floor is Hani, also known as “the Widow.” Hani is writing a letter to her childhood friend—a friend who has a career, children, and loving husband. Hani has left a challenging career as a graphic artist to be a stay-at-home mom. Her husband travels the world as part of his job. A persistent sense of isolation makes her doubt reality--even when it comes in the form of a handsome, con-man brother-in-law.

Like Arno, the characters in this story convince themselves that their questionable actions are unavoidable—that they have no choice. When Eviatar tells Hani’s children a bedtime story about the scorpion who convinces a turtle to carry him on his back across a river, intending to sting him once they reach the shore, he is talking about all of us. Free will is often limited by our innate selves. This is true of Arno, Hani, and Eviatar alike.

In the third story (the third floor), retired judge Devora leaves messages on an old answering machine. In this way, she can hear the voice of her recently deceased husband and continue a dialogue with him. And although theirs was a great love, preserving it came at great cost.

Three Floors Up is an exploration of the complexities of the human psyche. Nevo explores the impact of societal expectations on the individual (required military service, the role of motherhood) and captures the tension between the personal and the social. In doing so, he has created a tour de force that offers a glimpse into contemporary Israel.

*Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The uprising lasted from December 1987 until the Madrid Conference in 1991, though some date its conclusion to 1993, with the signing of the Oslo Accords.

 
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