Elsewhere by Doron Rabinovici
Tess Lewis, tr. London. Haus (University of Chicago Press, distr.). 2014. ISBN 9781908323491
For a writer born in Israel, living in Austria, and writing in German, it is not surprising that themes such as Jewish identity and belonging remain central to his existence. What is unanticipated, however, is the consistency with which Doron Rabinovici proves able to counter gaiety with solemnity, calamity with cheerfulness, and displacement with inclusion. The uncanny ability to tap into the glimmering portal of his Israeli-Austrian experiences through creative expression was first kindled in 1994 with his publication of Papirnik and rose in 2004 when banter’s wit harnessed his writing powers, licensing him the power needed to blithely beckon memories of the Holocaust in Ohnehin (Anyway). The skill with which he uses humor to recount recent challenges brought on by an enduring Jewish encounter with unsettlement likewise ascends to heights anew in his latest novel, Elsewhere (Andernorts, 2010), a narrative that enshrouds the writer’s own ventures through a subtle intersection of character and motive.
Autobiographical strands of possessing an identity as one who may willfully shed their own emerge from the very beginning when, during the course of a flight, Ethan Rosen repeatedly masks his origin, mother tongue, and true self to suit the immediate situation. Within the first chapter alone, Ethan dons several veils of selfhood in ways that only truly displaced transnationals can do. Grasping at his authentic Israeli roots leaves him irritated at the habits of what he agitatedly thinks of as core to the Jewish disposition for dissettlement, “a law of their nature, an instinct of eternal restlessness.” This revelation’s uncomfortable truth further spurs him toward an outright denial of self when later asked whether he could speak Hebrew. Unwilling “to revisit the question of origin and identity, to justify where he had chosen to live yet again,” he blatantly asserts an inability to speak his heritage language, saying instead that “he had gone to Israel on vacation, scuba diving in Eilat.”
When Ethan’s counterpart, Rudi Klausinger, later appears in the narrative, an additional filament of belonging and kinship flickers. In their initial altercations, they strategically confront each other in a continual game of odds in efforts to outdo the other and to gain professional and personal recognition. Parallel yet contrasting images of the other, they vie for the public’s trust and engagement through a series of publicly issued statements. Later, when Ethan detects Rudi’s latent presence by his dying father’s bedside, an already delicate situation becomes even more tenuous. Do Rudi and Ethan share the same biological father? Can they be brothers?
Although a haphazard set of genetic testing succeeds in negating these queries, what remains is an underlying sense that the elastic identities of Jew and Gentile alike flexibly conform to the confines of one’s earned and lived experience. The story concludes as it began, with a travel account reminiscent of the exodus each individual can only withstand if embarked upon with a sense of humor.
University of Oklahoma