By – June 14, 2022

While read­ing Love, the greet­ing under his eye” from Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale echoed in my mind. Through­out the tele­vi­sion series, hand­maids repeat under his eye” in ways both pious and creepy; under his eye” oper­ates as both an affir­ma­tion of reli­gious devo­tion, as in under the eye of God and as a reminder of liv­ing under the eyes of men and their own craven desires. In spare and haunt­ing prose, Maayan Eitan’s debut nov­el explores the same phe­nom­e­non of women liv­ing under the eyes of patriarchy.

Love is about a young woman named Lib­by. Through vignettes, scraps of dia­logue, and picaresque impres­sions, Love takes read­ers inside the mind of a young call girl work­ing in a name­less Israeli city. Like Atwood’s hand­maids, Lib­by works and lives under the male gaze, or as Lib­by describes it plain­ly, even banal­ly, men look at me.” Shut­tled from appoint­ment to appoint­ment by dri­vers and some­times with oth­er work­ing young women, Lib­by nar­rates sex work as both ordi­nary and appallingm punc­tu­at­ed by drug use, men­stru­a­tion, and loneliness.

The sto­ry and the prose alter­nate between being bleak, hor­ri­fy­ing, and riv­et­ing. Eitan con­trols the sto­ry and the dic­tion so tight­ly that the nov­el feels like it might explode. The prose is spare but potent, and each sen­tence often lay­ers mean­ing on the next. Con­sid­er the open­ing six sen­tences: You had a ter­rif­ic laugh. You had long legs, big tits, a flat bel­ly. No, you were fat. You came from ruined homes, well-off fam­i­lies, your par­ents were mad­ly in love with each oth­er. Your father was an accoun­tant, a kib­butz mem­ber, home­less, a lin­guis­tics pro­fes­sor at a uni­ver­si­ty.” The sec­ond-per­son address impli­cates the read­er imme­di­ate­ly in the sto­ry. Thin or fat, from every type of fam­i­ly, this sto­ry is about all women as told by one. With taut prose and a small size, Love might be called more accu­rate­ly a novel­la, or even a nov­el­ette, but a gen­dered diminu­tion giv­en the weight of the issues and the cen­tral­i­ty of this young woman’s voice is best resisted.

Love is divid­ed into two parts: first, Words Are Whores,” and sec­ond, Love,” mir­ror­ing Libby’s expe­ri­ences divid­ed into two parts — call girl and lover. Eitan con­structs the nov­el as a per­fect ful­crum for these two female arche­types. Madon­na and whore, wife and mis­tress, lover and call girl, all liv­ing under his eye and col­laps­ing togeth­er under pressure.

Love is, in the end, rem­i­nis­cent of not only Atwood’s 1980s dystopia but also of the intense debates and engage­ments of those same decades about sex work, pros­ti­tu­tion, and pornog­ra­phy. In women’s stud­ies cir­cles, recent inter­est in these sex debates is insur­gent. Schol­ar Lor­na Bracewell’s work traces a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive of these ear­li­er con­tes­ta­tions, one that does not car­i­ca­ture the var­i­ous fem­i­nist actors, and that helps high­light some of the renewed inter­est in these ques­tions in the era of #MeToo and Trump as does the recent, high­ly-pop­u­lar book by Amia Srini­vasan The Right to Sex. With lit­er­ary chops rem­i­nis­cent of Andrea Dworkin’s first nov­el Ice and Fire but with a voice all her own, Eitan enters this ter­ri­to­ry anew not through phi­los­o­phy or polit­i­cal his­to­ry but through sto­ry. It is a sto­ry worth reading.

Julie R. Ensz­er is the author of four poet­ry col­lec­tions, includ­ing Avowed, and the edi­tor of Out­Write: The Speech­es that Shaped LGBTQ Lit­er­ary Cul­ture, Fire-Rimmed Eden: Select­ed Poems by Lynn Loni­di­erThe Com­plete Works of Pat Park­er, and Sis­ter Love: The Let­ters of Audre Lorde and Pat Park­er 1974 – 1989. Ensz­er edits and pub­lish­es Sin­is­ter Wis­dom, a mul­ti­cul­tur­al les­bian lit­er­ary and art jour­nal. You can read more of her work at www​.JulieREn​sz​er​.com.

Discussion Questions

Maayan Eitan’s Love can be read in one breath. In lyri­cal, propul­sive prose, Love takes the read­er deep into the life of a young sex work­er in Tel Aviv, even as it con­stant­ly shifts who that work­er is, exact­ly, and whether the nar­ra­tor is one woman or mul­ti­ple women, or all women. 

Love is frank about desire, pow­er, dan­ger, and dis­ap­point­ment, as well as the fun­da­men­tal right of a woman to do what she feels like doing. Cru­cial­ly, it makes the read­er ques­tion what the truth is. It depicts a com­plex, mul­ti­cul­tur­al soci­ety where every per­son — Russ­ian, Ethiopi­an, ultra-Ortho­dox, or sec­u­lar Israeli — is search­ing. Occa­sion­al­ly, that search leads to find­ing love in the so-called wrong places.

Because Love’s author is also its trans­la­tor, this ele­gant­ly trans­lat­ed nov­el also offers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­sid­er the trans­la­tor as a writer, the role of the trans­la­tor alto­geth­er, and the tran­scen­dent pow­er of trans­la­tion as art.