Ten Thousand Lovers is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelves for quite some time (more than five years according to its Bookcrossing journal). It survived the great library purge of 2011 despite the fact that I've had no compelling urge to read it in all that time. Why? Well, the cover art is quite beautiful, it has a medallion indicating that it was a finalist for Canada's Governor General's Award, and its back-cover text is quite enticing, particularly this bit:
In today's world, where danger, terrorism and the possibility of war are part of all our lives, no novel could be more brilliantly, terrifyingly contemporary. Yet Ten Thousand Lovers is set in Israel in the Seventies: a dazzling backdrop to a universal story of passion, suffering and the transcending power of love.Ten Thousand Lovers was in an easy-to-reach section of my bookshelves and after grabbing it from there recently, I decided to go ahead and read it for the reasons mentioned above.
Lily is now an academic in England. Her daughter is of an age and embarking on her first serious relationship. Ten Thousand Lovers is Lily's reflection on that time in her own life. Though Lily spent her earliest years on a kibbutz, she is more Canadian than Israeli when she returns to Israel for college and meets a man whose job working for the Israeli army as an interrogator fills her with distaste.
Lily's recounting of her relationship with Ami is full of semantic digressions. A linguist, she can't help but explain the origins and meanings of the words that comprise their story. Rather than being distracting, these digressions inform the story and serve to better explicate the situation in Israel both at the time the story takes place and now.
Ten Thousand Lovers is a beautifully written novel. It is moving and sad and filled with truisms ("you can't quantify unhappiness," p. 296). It is a story that begs to be read and one that will stick with its readers long after they close the novel's covers.