“Friendly Fire” is the eighth A. B. Yehoshua novel. It was published in Hebrew in 2007, and the English translation in 2008. It is composed in an interest-capturing manner, a short several page section about the behavior and thoughts of middle-aged Ya’ari followed by one focusing on his wife Daniela, then again on Ya’ari and then Daniela, in that order throughout the book. When an event is cut off by the onset of the next section dealing with the other spouse, suspense is created, as when a person falls off an elevator, what happens, we do not know until the next section dealing with this same spouse begins again. Both the original Hebrew and its translation are superb, attention-grabbing, absorbing, and easy to read, despite its depth.
Yehoshua is considered by many to be one of Israel’s top three writers of fiction. His first novel “The Lover” was published in Hebrew in 1977. It made such an enormous impact that it propelled Yehoshua into prominence where he remained at or near the top since the first published work. His stories are generally unusual. They are very well written, almost poetic in parts. We learn much about the characters, their needs, desires, thoughts. His books require readers to think during the reading, to consider his characters’ motivations, their psychology, and the effect of what is happening upon others.
The fundamental plot in this tale is the accidental shooting of Daniela’s sister’s son Eyal by a member of his unit during a military maneuver in Israel, what is called “friendly fire” and the devastating impact that his death has on his parents, and upon Ya’ari, Daniela, their son Moan, his especially beautiful wife Efrat, and their daughter Nofar during a seven-day period.
The military refuses to give Yirmiyahu, the boy’s father, details about his son’s death, including the name of the soldier who accidentally killed him. The boy’s mother mourns by giving up sex, and soon dies. After searching for answers Yirmiyahu takes a job in Africa. Daniela flies to Africa hoping to help him is some way, and finds that he now hates Israel and anything connected with it, including the Hebrew language. She wants to find out why he is acting as he is and what he discovered in his attempts to learn about his son’s death.
It is fascinating and disturbing to read Yirmiyahu’s diatribe against Jews and Judaism prompted by his son’s death. And it is interesting to read about life in Africa during Daniela’s visit there and the problems faced by nine archeological diggers who find remains of pre-humans hundreds of thousands of years old.
There are a number of subplots in the novel. Ya’ari’s father’s mistress with whom he had a relationship after his wife’s death, who he stopped seeing because he became somewhat disabled and was embarrassed by his weakness caused by his condition, calls for him to come and fix the elevator that he designed for her. Ya’ari, Ya’ari’s son and father are elevator designers. At the same time, an elevator in a large building of many floors makes unusual howling noises, like a cat in distress: what causes the noise and who is responsible to repair it. The apartment house lead tenant is a father of a son killed in battle. These ordeals parallel and are symbols in miniature of the suffering and damage caused by death by friendly fire.