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House on Endless Waters

House on Endless Waters 1

by Emuna Elon

Paperback / softback Publication Date: 03/03/2020

5/5 Rating 1 Reviews
RRP  $29.99 $23.25

A lyrical and exquisitely moving novel about a writer who embarks on a transformative journey in Amsterdam, where he discovers the shocking truth about his mother's wartime experience.

At the behest of his agent, renowned author Yoel Blum reluctantly agrees to visit his birthplace of Amsterdam to meet with his Dutch publisher, despite promising his late mother that he would never return to that city. While touring the Jewish Museum with his wife, Yoel stumbles upon a looping reel of photos offering a glimpse of pre-war Dutch Jewish life, and is astonished to see the youthful face of his beloved mother staring back at him, posing with her husband, Yoel's older sister Nettie…and an infant he doesn't recognize.

This unsettling discovery launches him into a fervent search for the truth, revealing Amsterdam's dark wartime history and the underground networks which hid Jewish children away from danger-but at a cost. The deeper into the past Yoel digs, the better he understands his mother's silence, and the more urgent the question that has unconsciously haunted him for a lifetime-Who am I?-becomes.

Part family mystery, part wartime drama, House on Endless Waters is an unforgettable meditation on identity, belonging, and the inextricable nature of past and present.

Contemporary fiction
Paperback / softback
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"It is sensitive and beautifully written, its reality utterly convincing. I loved it."
Alex Miller, winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award 

"Readers will find Elon's lyrical prose haunting as she moves between past and present, constructing a heartbreaking, moving tale that brings understanding and acceptance."

"I read this book in excitement and wonder…touching and fascinating?"
Amos Oz

"A story of love, loss, and yearning. Lyrically phrased and often powerfully visual...this deeply felt tale offers a rewarding meditation on survival."

Emuna Elon

Emuna Elon is an internationally bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist, journalist, and women's activist. Born in Jerusalem to a family of prominent rabbis and scholars, she was raised in Jerusalem and New York. She teaches Judaism, Hasidism, and Hebrew literature. Her first novel translated into English, If You Awaken Love, was a National Jewish Book Award finalist.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

5 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • A moving, illuminating and thought-provoking read.

    by on

    “I’ve always thought I know how to write people because I know how to see them, yet today I discovered that I’ve never really succeeded in seeing even my own mother. I thought I was close to you, my beloved mother, I thought I knew you well, and now it turns out that all the time you were carrying a missing child in your heart – and I didn’t feel it and would never have guessed.”

    House on Endless Waters is the fourth novel by Israeli journalist and author, Emuna Elon. Yoel Blum has never been to Amsterdam. It was the one thing his (now-deceased) mother demanded of him. But his Dutch publishers want an appearance by their acclaimed Israeli author, so he complies. In tourist mode, his wife drags him into the Jewish History Museum, where they chance upon an image: his young parents, his older sister and a babe in arms that is clearly not Yoel.

    The shock of realising his mother has held a secret all of his life sparks a crisis within. His sister Nettie has mere snippets of the story, but Yoel feels compelled to return to Amsterdam, to his family’s home, to write the novel that will become his finest work yet. “Nettie can only relate the little she knows and remembers, but he will gather up the tangle of broken threads she gave him and weave them into a whole tapestry.”

    So begins the story within a story, as Yoel settles into a tiny, shabby hotel within sight of the house where his young parents lived. Yoel frequents, perhaps haunts, places important in the story, and seems at times to inhabit both Sonia Blum’s world and his own. The lines between reality and imagination sometimes seem to blur, perhaps unsurprising for someone who, as a boy “… hadn’t meant to lie, he simply didn’t know, or perhaps didn’t want to know, how to separate the life in his imagination from reality, which to him was imaginary as well.”

    He visits significant locations and gets the feel of the place. He immerses himself in the Jewish History Museum and is fleetingly struck with a dose of Jewish paranoia. He watches the people who live in the neighbourhood, and some become characters in his novel, as do other present-day elements like a certain painting, some backyard steps, a dancer, church bells, a brown café.

    Yoel’s mother was unforthcoming about what happened during the war: “Those waters had already flowed onward… You’ve got a mother and you’ve got a sister and you’ve got yourself. That’s all; nothing else matters.” If the mystery of exactly what happened during his childhood is not utterly baffling, curiosity about the reason behind it and just how it all fell together keeps the pages turning.

    With her luminous prose, Elon conveys the plight of these Amsterdam Jews in their occupied city wonderfully well. It will be a shocking revelation to some. And if Yoel is at first a bit annoying, a bit arrogant, he does improve markedly as the story progresses. Her female lead seems at first somewhat perverse, but proves to be a strong, complex and big-hearted soul.

    This is brilliantly told, and flawlessly translated from Hebrew by Anthony Berris and Linda Yechiel, but it loses half a star of the potential five-star rating for indulging in the annoying editorial affliction of omitting quote marks for speech (why, oh why?) A moving, illuminating and thought-provoking read.
    This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Better Reading Preview and Allen & Unwin.