The House of Rajani

Written by Alon Hilu Evan Fallenberg (trans.)
Review by Sara Wilson

In the late 19th century, Isaac Luminsky and his new wife, “Her Ladyship,” travel from Europe to Jaffa. They are Jewish settlers hoping for land and prosperity. Their marriage is a passionless affair and the young Luminsky finds himself drawn to Afifa, a young, married Arab woman, the mother of Salah Rajani. Isaac views Salah as a simple-minded boy, but befriends him to get close to Afifa but also because he covets the Rajani estate. Salah at first views Isaac as a benevolent angel, but comes to see him as a malevolent angel of destruction. Salah’s visions of a future where Arabs and Jews are at war are dismissed by most as insane ravings, but, as Isaac sets out to rid the Rajani estate of its Arabic tenant farmers, perhaps there is more truth than lunacy in his predictions.

The House of Rajani is a rich and colourful take on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The opposing sides, as represented by Isaac and Salah, misunderstand each other at every turn. They both love and hate each other and the success of one will inevitably mean the destruction of the other. In many ways this is a modern day parable – we hope that we have come a long way from the colonist ethos of the 19th century, but it is clear from this novel that both sides still have a lot to learn.

The novel is fascinating but also terrifying. Salah’s visions of the horrors to come will obviously prove to be true and that makes them all the more sickening.