Suzane Adam is an renowned author in Israel and received the Kugel Prize in 2006 for her novel, Janis’s Mother. Adam’s first novel, Laundry, her first novel to be translated from Hebrew into English, is a novel that captivates from the first page with a mysterious narrator and even more elusive plot.
The novel begins en media res with a narrative that hints towards a tragic event that has occurred and the confusion and concern that it has caused to those observing its aftermath. The structure of the novel progresses into a story told from the beginning, a story that will explain the recent tragic event, which is both the novel’s opening and its conclusion, but begins when the main character is a five-year-old with curious violet eyes. The narrative itself is clear and seems almost effortless in its moving pace and mesmerizing plot, a seamlessness which the reader may contribute to both Adam and her translator, Becka Mara McKay.
The novel depicts Ildiko, a quiet, introspective woman, curled on her couch, unmoving and silent, after she returns home from the hospital under vague circumstances. The narrator states: “For two days I’ve been trying to persuade her to speak, but she won’t, she can’t. There is so much despair in her eyes.” The reader is already questioning what could have happened to this woman, but the reader soon learns that Ildiko does intend to speak, and more than she has ever done so:
She is making pleats in the edge of the blanket, fold upon fold, her hands shaking, I’ll tell everything, from the beginning, she says in a voice I don’t recognize. It’s not me she’s talking to. I’m afraid to move, I don’t want to disturb her concentration. Slowly, slowly, minutes pass, she lifts her head up, fixes her gaze on a corner of the ceiling. Syllables, letters. Sentences take shape from the words she is speaking. I hear; I don’t understand, wait, from the beginning? No, from the end, the end is so terrible, she should start at the end, what is she talking about? Words, flat, monotonous, one after the other. She’s reciting from inside herself, a story no one knows . . .
Her loved ones realize that Ildiko hid more in her quiet, unassuming manner than they could ever comprehend. Ildilko is an observer, first and foremost, highlighted by her interest in painting as a way for her to reflect on the world without actually engaging in it.
This novel is Ildiko’s breaking of the ever-present silence and submissiveness of her life, her inability to speak to others about her traumatic experience. Silence is a pervasive theme incorporated throughout the novel with all of the characters. Ildiko’s parents, survivors of the Holocaust, live their life by the motto: “What happened, happened.” They refrain from recounting their tragedies simply because they are in the past. In a similar fashion, Ildiko keeps silent about her horrific childhood incident of being dragged to the slaughterhouse by Yutzi, her family’s adored “foster-child.” Ildiko’s silent fear of Yutzi and her threats are mollified when her family emigrates from Transylvania to Israel, a mimicry of the author’s childhood emigration, when Yutzi’s reign of terror over Ildiko is forced to end. Ildiko and her parent’s silence is the silence of survivors, a silence that must be broken in order to truly leave the past in the past; a silence that threatens their very being until the internal has been manifested in a form that can be understood, so that people can understand that what happened, happened, but needs to be told, and from the beginning.