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Author Sayed Kashua is an Arab who was born in Israel. He writes novels in Hebrew, but he's also created a popular Israeli sitcom that's mostly in Arabic. A contradiction? Maybe. But Molly Antopol says his newest book is a good look at an often overlooked segment of the Israeli population, and it's this week's Must Read.
MOLLY ANTOPOL: It's always been complicated to be an Arab and to live in Israel. I'm not talking about the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. I'm talking about people who live inside the green line, who vote in Israeli elections and can serve in the Army. They have to constantly straddle two cultures, and during a week like this, with the death toll rising on both sides, that becomes even more problematic. The writer Sayed Kashua fits into this category. His newest book "Second Person Singular" is about two Arab-Israeli men, one who we only know as the lawyer, has assimilated smoothly into upper middle-class Arab life in Jerusalem. Every week he pops into his local used bookstore, hoping to look sophisticated. One day he finds a note in one of the books, clearly in his wife's handwriting. (Reading) I wanted to thank you for last night, it says. Call me tomorrow?
Of course, our lawyer goes on a jealous rampage around Jerusalem, which leads him to Amir, an Arab social worker who may or may not have answers about that note. Amir is broke and he's taken on a job as a living caretaker for a dying Jewish man. When the man finally does die, Amir assumes his identity. In a sense, both Amir and the lawyer are inventing new versions of themselves. Eventually, the dead man's mother discovers Amir's deception and says, why not? (Reading) Around here identity is like one of the organs of the body and yours is faulty.
It's a depressing thought from Kashua, that a person's background can be defective. This is a cynical novel and it gets darker as the two men become more insecure about their truth selves. The more they fit in, Kashua seems to say, the less comfortable they become. Of course during a week like this, it's hard to find a comfortable identity for anyone, Arab or Jew. Welcome to Sayed Kashua's Israel.
CORNISH: The book is Sayed Kashua's. It's called "Second Person Singular." It was recommended by Molly Antopol. Her latest book is called "The UnAmericans."
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