When We Danced on Water, by Israeli novelist Evan Fallenberg, is yet another of the World War II books I seem to have picked up lately. It’s not by design, I swear. I wonder if part of why we’re seeing so many of books on the topic is that the last of the survivors of the war are beginning to die off, and so it has recaptured our imagination.
Fallenberg’s Teo Levin is one such survivor. A famous Israeli choreographer, in his mid-eighties he has never stopped regretting the dancing career he could have had in Europe if Hitler had not come to power. He becomes friends with Vivi, a fortyish waitress who dabbles in one artistic form after another. Vivi is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who tries to imagine herself as part of the generation that has put the Holocaust behind them. Tries is the key word, here.
Their relationship is sensual yet believable, despite the difference in age. Through it, they both come to a place of peace and acceptance. To get there, however, they need to walk through the fire of their memories.
Fallenberg’s story is of two Israelis who lost their selves to men in Berlin, only to find them again together decades later. It is perfectly wrought, and the precise prose delivers a plot that is breathtaking in its devastation. The characters are at once sparsely sketched and fully developed. Place is important in this book, and Berlin becomes almost a character in itself.
Consider reading this one for your book club. If you have a book club of really intense people.