A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yehoshua
This is a fast-paced, plot-dominated novel that rings lots of bells and leaves the reader at the end laughing out loud but also seriously exploring the issues it raises.
The main character is “the human resources manager” of a large Jerusalem bakery. He used to be the top salesman but was transferred when extensive travel interfered with his home life. His wife divorced him anyway. The main focus of the novel is a corpse—and oddly the only character with a name—Yulia Ragayev, a non-Jewish immigrant from an unnamed Slavic country who came to Jerusalem with a Jewish lover who abandoned her. Her son went back to his father but Yulia remained, employed as a cleaner (though she is a trained engineer) at the bakery. She comes to the human resources manager’s attention when a weekly scandal rag accuses the company of “gross negligence” in not caring what happened to her. Her body has been in the morgue, unidentified, for a week after she was killed in a terrorist attack. The reporter found a pay stub from the bakery in her possession.
Other main characters include the owner of the bakery who wants his human resources manager to turn around the negative publicity the company will get from the reporter’s soon-to-be-published article, the human resources manager’s assistant (with her husband and baby to say nothing of the human resources manager’s daughter and ex-wife) as well as the owner’s assistant and a night manager who was Yulia’s boss, and who, it turns out, is “responsible” for the fact that Yulia had a pay stub but was not in fact working at the bakery. There’s the reporter and the photographer and eventually the honorary consul (located in the unnamed Slavic country) and her husband. Oh, yes, Yulia’s son and her ex-husband.
The situation escalates as the investigation progresses. It turns out that Yulia was beautiful, fair with unusual Tartar eyes. The night manager had let her go because he’d become obsessed with her and the human resources manager, even though he refuses to look at her corpse, becomes similarly obsessed. He is “blamed” for the situation—he is after all the human resources manager and as such responsible for any irregularities connected with personnel. And it also turns out that he interviewed Yulia—he has his notes on what she told him—without remembering either her person or her plight. The escalating situation raises touchy issues connected with what happens to immigrants and the effects of living with terrorism as well as nationality and what that means. Even more it raises issues of responsibility for what happens to individuals in a complex society.
I won’t give you any more of the plot—you need to read it for yourself. It’s a quick read, but one that will stick with you.