“Two old Holocaust refugee women live in the garage of 29 November Street, Old Katamon, in Jerusalem. When we passed their home we used to stone the garage door”
This sentence that appears as an introduction to my book Promenade a Deux was written as a homage to those two solitary old women who lived in a dark and narrow garage in the early 1960’s. Even today I do not understand why we stoned their entry gates – maybe because they spoke German, maybe because they had numbers tattooed on their arms. Maybe it was because they were just different from us or maybe because we were ignorant children afraid of anything that we were unfamiliar with.
In the same garage I have placed the plot of this book and in this place lived imaginary heroes – the child Orion and the mysterious Yohanna who had raised him. Orion who was born under the sign of the Scorpion in November 1967, did not have the privilege of knowing his father. Uri-Ulrich. His father was 3 years old when he came to Israel from Germany immediately after the Second World War and was killed in the 1967 Six Day War. Orion was named after the mythological hunter who died from the sting of a scorpion. After his death the mythological Orion became a bright constellation in the sky.
Our hero bears all the characteristics of a “Scorpio“ – his movements replicate the movements of the Scorpion – moving to the left and right, back and forth, careful and deliberate. He sheds the obstacles of life from his shoulders. He is decisive and is determined to carry all his secrets, his pain and his aspirations like the female scorpion who carries her offspring on her back.
The two women who raise Orion in an abandoned Arab house in Old Katamon in Jerusalem came from “There”. Yohanna ,the older one, is a midwife of German origin and Aviva her young daughter-in-law, an orphan , is a teacher of Nature Studies. Yohanna is introverted ,meticulous, and devoted to the memory of Uri -Ulrich and the education of Orion. This devotion extends to her job, her parrot and her cat. She lives modestly and speaks terrible Hebrew Aviva was widowed after only a few months of marriage and before she was able to enjoy the taste of family. She has developed a hunger for life. Both women have an urge for something intangible and they float in a space that the child is unable to fill for them . This is why the atmosphere in the house is full of uncertainty and anticipation. They are extremely protective of Orion both from his past and the future.
But family secrets are doomed to be revealed and Orion must face the revelation of his own self. He achieves this with the help of a third woman – Christina -Anna, who he calls in Yiddish. Beshert -the one who is destined to be with me. In the world that surrounds Orion, the temporary always fades into the permanent. Love is not self obvious, the flowers have their own language, voices and smells have taste and colour. A male parrot ( Sarah) speaks several languages and is blessed with human feelings; and an Ice Cream van which has been converted into a mobile library ,has a sense of humour and acts with an independent will. While scorpions, books, a creeping bush of Wisteria and the sweet smell of the lilac are themes that run through the story and connect everyone.
I decided to name the book by the harsh name Promenade a Deux ( The Scorpion’s Dance) not only because of Orion’s Zodiac sign but also because scorpions are revealed to him often in the Sky and on Earth. Sometimes as a shedding of the molts of scorpions in an abandoned house, sometimes in the stars and sometimes in an erotic dance that he dances with his German lover The story is told as the Love Dance of the Scorpions and it draws the reader forwards, backwards and to the sides in a non linear ( chronological ) way But the Scorpion’s Dance in the book is not only a romantic /artistic / erotic act but is mostly about the struggle for survival. The dance of Israelis, Palestinians and Germans.
“I was naive to assume” Orion writes “that we are dancing a courting dance. Today I wonder whether they express horror and fear by the dance. It is not because of their love they hold each others pincers ,but because they are afraid to be mortally stung from each others sting.”
When I completed the book I felt that I had broken the “glass ceiling “ of Women’s writing. Up to this date all my novels “gave women the stage” but here I concentrate on a very complex character of a man. During the writing in first person masculine I recalled Virginia Woolf ‘s description “that writing is situated in the androgynous brain that does not surrender to a gender stereotype.”
Ministry of Culture and Sport Award 1015
Translated to English by Jessica Cohen.
Foreign rights agent: The Deborah Harris Agency
“There are no appropriate words to illustrate the nature of Shifra Horn’s excellent book – which is full of contradictions and contradictions, and which binds together blossom, withering, wickedness and benevolence – as in the sentence: “figs are splashed on the pavement and smeared with red stains in the legs of passersby.” The author put it all in Orion’s mouth, an orphaned father who grew up in a matriarchal environment full of mysteries and delusions. Orion grew up, researched, and then almost crashed to the ground of truth. The world that surrounds it is temporary and permanent, love is not obvious, but it is lavished on it abundantly, flowers have their own language, sounds and smells of taste and color, a multi-lingual parrot endowed with human emotions and an ice-cream car transformed into a portable library displaying humor and will. This surreal dimension supports well the fateful symbolism of the three main motifs of the plot: scorpions, books, and the sweet smell of the lilac.
Orion, born in Scorpio in November 1967, did not get to know his father, Uri-Ulrich, who arrived in Israel three years old and was killed in the Six-Day War at Ammunition Hill. The two women who raise Orion in an abandoned Arab house in Old Katamon in Jerusalem came “from there”; Holocaust refugees with a sealed past, present and a vague future. Johanna is a German midwife, Uri’s mother, and Aviva, her youngest daughter-in-law, an orphan and a teacher of nature. The first is internalized, meticulous, devoted to her son’s memory, to her granddaughter’s education, to her work, to her and to her cats, to a small and inexplicable Hebrew speaker. The second was widowed after four months of marriage, before she could taste a family; And she is hungry for life, an idealistic hippie of the 1960s, messy, handsome, capricious and childish. Both of them love music, books and nature, both yearning for something primal and floating in space that the child can not fill, so the house is always in an atmosphere of uncertainty and anticipation. Who are these women? Who was the father? Why do not they have any close and evil? Is there really in the documents of the immigration of Johanna and Aviva, or in what is hinted at in half words, in looks, and whispered from the mouths of people behind the back?
Orion, named after the mythological hunter who died of scorpion sting as a group of stars in the sky, conducts his daily life as the scorpion itself during the ritual courtship dance; His movements are cautious movements, forward and backward, left, right, weighing every move against the unexpected and the unknown. He sheds the obstacles of life and resolutely carries with him his secrets, sufferings and aspirations, like the scorpion’s female (“I have acquired the habits of a scorpion and I am pleased with my life”). The threads of the story as intricate as the lilac-like tendrils on the walls of Orion’s house are cleaned of the past and woven into a vibrant carpet. We all have female part and masculine part in the brain. The author’s choice to so frankly impress the male as a bet, and the result is joyful. Shifra Horn looks at herself and the women in particular with the eyes of one particular man he created, with all his qualities and weaknesses, and it is good to see that she managed to find in his touching figure an alter ego. The voice is therefore given to the male voice, and this makes virtuoso use of the rich and varied knowledge and the rich and plentiful language given to him.
There is a deep fascination in the book, in the combination of meticulous realism and the words of the liturgical poetry. It is easy to be convinced that Orion is alive and authentic and is the one that will mold spirit in every figure and character, describing experiences of pain, anxiety, yearning, happiness and sex, leading readers through the streets of Jerusalem and creating a dense atmosphere that draws us inward to the spectacular and dangerous fields of fire.
It is the sorcery of a wise and courageous writer who writes about life and death in that warm intimacy, with a check of loneliness and does not shy away from microscopic descriptions full of empathy and patience, which together create a unique mix. Shifra Horn’s natural descriptions in this book are among the most beautiful ones I have ever read, and her Hebrew provides a sense of emotional satiety. This is the best Arabic script;Delinquent sensual detail and deviations from the linear path to the sides do not impair the intensity of the characters and the completeness described. Writing like that can only those who have experienced a great love and share it right with others. The scorpion dance is a song of praise to a man who stands strong against his fate. It is not a book in the conventional sense of the word, but a living and breathing organism that continues to accompany the reader in its various shades, smells, and voices for a long time after we parted from it.”
Rivka Keren ( author and critic for Haaretz and ‘Books’ magazine )
“I consider myself a skilled reader and if I state in firm and decisive terms that this book is an
amazing and accomplished achievement and a wonderful novel – you can believe me
The book is not easy to read but in my opinion it deserves the investment in time and effort to
read it . Not only because of its interesting plot or both the hidden and the obvious themes but
also the unique architectural structure of the work . It exhibits the most wonderful language skills
of Shifra Horn .Her use of the Hebrew language can be compared to the author S. Yizhar
The book is written in first person masculine. Exactly as Amos Oz who managed to excite
emotions with his “My Michael “ writing in first person feminine , so does Shifra Horn in
her ‘male voice’ .”
Dr Moshe Granot ( Literary Critic and Researcher )
“This book is written with a special music , in a rich language – sensuous and flowing.
Promenade a Deux stimulates the senses and emotions of the reader and moves between the
circle of memory and the circle of forgotten past”
Shlomit Cohen Assif ( Writer )