Every House Needs a Balcony
Young Rina lives in a crowded neighborhood in Haifa with her extended family, comprised mainly of Eastern Europeans who immigrated to Israel in the 1950s. Though her childhood is hardscrabble, the tight bonds she has with her family make every day an adventure. Years later, a mature Rina meets and falls in love with a wealthy Spanish architect who visits Israel for the summer. Her passionate relationship takes her from the rough streets of Haifa to a luxurious apartment in Barcelona, but she finds that a life of luxury is nothing without the love, friendship, and support of her family, friends, and neighbors.
As her marriage begins to disintegrate, Rina gives birth to a chronically-ill daughter, underscoring her need for a support system like the one she had as a girl.
Told in chapters that alternate between Rina’s childhood and adulthood, the parallel narrative juxtaposes Rina’s poverty-stricken childhood with her glamorous adulthood. In less-skilled hands, such a conceit could be ineffective or distracting, but in this case, it works beautifully, with each chapter introducing the reader to new childhood influences on the mature Rina’s character. Sometimes, literature in translation can be clunky or difficult to read, but Ora Cummings’s poetic translation of Frank’s first novel, a bestseller in her native Israel, reads like a combination of folklore and fine literary fiction. I hope that she will be translating some of Frank’s other fiction for English-speaking readers, as this is one of the finest novels I have read in some time.