A Wall of Light, By Edeet Ravel, Harper Perennial, 288 pp., $13.95
In theory, Edeet Ravel's ''A Wall of Light" takes place during one momentous day in late August, a day in which Sonya Vronsky, a professor of mathematics at Tel Aviv University, ''kissed a student, pursued a lover, found my father, and left my brother." It is a compelling chronicle of life in present-day Israel as experienced by a brilliant, if socially naive, young deaf woman who shares a house with her much older brother Kostya.
However, the compass of ''A Wall of Light" is considerably wider, tracing aspects of daily life in Israel back to the late '50s. The novel is the third in the Israeli-Canadian author's Tel Aviv trilogy (''Ten Thousand Lovers," ''Look for Me"), all of which deal with the ways in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impacts the daily personal lives and dreams of those in the region. ''A Wall of Light" unfolds through the alternating voices of three members of the Vronsky family.
The first is Sonya, whose remarkable day provides the novel's only semblance of dramatic action. The voice of the second narrator, Sonya's mother, Anna, is reflected in a series of letters to a lover she left behind in Russia during the '50s. Her poignant missives to Andrei, who was not able to get out of Russia, chronicle the life of Israel's hopeful postwar immigrants. The third voice is that of Noah. Though he is slightly older than the 32-year-old Sonya, he is actually her nephew, the son of her brother Kostya. His diary entries, which begin when he is 10 years old, bring to the novel a child's voice, tracing family relationships and adolescent sexual awakening, As he matures, his idealism and political ambivalence lend global depth to what is essentially a very personal story. Intriguingly, the character that ties them all together is the enigmatic Kostya. However, his voice is largely missing. We learn about him only through the small details and memories of the others.
While these personal reflections and ruminations are the heart of ''A Wall of Light," the story's dramatic arc follows Sonya, virginal at 32, who claims no one would be interested in a deaf woman except for the novelty. In truth, she is emotionally detached as the result of an assault years earlier and is ''unwilling to give in to my vulnerability." But when a chance encounter with a student is followed by an inexplicable attraction to a solicitous taxi driver, Sonya begins to throw caution to the wind, setting off a chain of events that catapult the book toward its satisfying end.
Ravel's writing is beautifully clean and clear, tending toward the spare. She doesn't illuminate the uneasy relations between the Jews and the Arabs, and in general assumes a good bit of historical sophistication and insight on the part of the reader, such as with Noah's diary entries referring to the Kahanists. However, these references do pique one's interest. The uninitiated may find these teasers a call for deeper reading, for further investigation. And what's a good book for if not to launch us on a new journey of discovery.