“I am Sonya Vronsky, professor of mathematics at Tel Aviv University, and this is the story of a day in late August
On this remarkable day I kissed a student, pursued a lover, found my father, and left my brother.” So begins A Wall of Light, a novel which chronicles a single day in the life of Sonya, a thirty-two-year-old deaf woman about to break out of her predictable routine.Sonya lives in Tel Aviv with her protective half-brother, Kostya; their household has dwindled from five to two. Anna, their mother, is now in a nursing home and Noah, Kostya’s son, is living in Berlin. Kostya, wracked with guilt for the tragedies that have befallen Sonya, also grapples with the memory of his wife, Iris, a lawyer murdered in the course of a dangerous investigation seventeen years earlier.As we move through Sonya’s day, Noah and Anna narrate their stories as well. Noah’s journal entries cover the years 1980-1993, and Anna’s letters to Andrei, her married lover in Russia, are written in 1957, after Anna has emigrated to Israel to build a new life for herself and her son, Kostya. While Sonya’s story moves rapidly through the events of a single day, Noah and Anna’s voices take the reader back in time, filling in the circumstances that have led Sonya to this pivotal moment. We learn that Sonya has already endured two catastrophes. At age twelve, a medical mishap leaves her deaf, and at eighteen, while studying at university in Beersheba, Sonya is assaulted by two hoodlums. Throughout the novel, Sonya’s experiences, instigated by both human error and human evil, are echoed by the larger, political violence that haunts modern Israel.While Noah’s and Anna’s voices shed light on Sonya’s journey, they also provide insights into the political and cultural fabric of Israel from the mid 1950s to the present. Noah’s journal entries, starting with his tenth birthday and ending shortly after his army service, map his coming of age. We see him wrestling with his sexual identity and first sexual encounters, the fallout from his mother’s leftist politics, and his own conscription to the army. Anna’s secret letters to Andrei offer an outsider’s perspective on the new Israeli state. The remarkable events of Sonya’s day are set in motion when her brother gives her an antihistamine. Overcome with sleepiness, she dismisses her morning class early, asking only one student, Matar, to stay behind. She wants to understand what lies behind his unusual expression. He answers that he has been involved in war crimes, and surprises Sonya by kissing her. Sonya feels that she has been roused from a long slumber and as the novel progresses we see the ways in which her awakened desire shapes her choices. She decides to take a taxi home from the university and impulsively invites the taxi driver inside and seduces him. He complies, but when she tells him she’s deaf, he flees in confusion. Sonya is convinced that she has fallen in love with him, and decides to pursue him. She solicits her brother’s help and sets out to find her lover.Sonya’s search gains in intensity and purpose as she travels to East Jerusalem. There she encounters the walls that prevent Palestinians from moving freely through the West Bank. After an Alice in Wonderland-like journey past numerous obstacles, Sonya finally makes it to her lover’s house. This second encounter leads Sonya to a central revelation: the identity of her father.As this day of awakened desire and dispelled secrets closes, Sonya is able to step out from under the protective wing of her brother into a life that reflects both the ambiguity and uncertainty of contemporary Israel and her own personal possibilities.