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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Esau by Meir Shalev

As has become my habit, when I read Esau by Meir Shalev, I marked it up with post-it notes of sentences I liked. Here they are.

But in America–“the lovely trustful, dreamy enormous country,” remember?–where I live and where many of the women have only one smell, the lack of stimuli sometimes leads me to recall that desperate, violent, and hopeless blend of kitchnes, latrines, and the sweat of worshipers’ toes. One by one, they rise up before me. From the stench of rot and blood in the butcher shops to the sweet aroma wafting from the tiny alcove of the hashish roaster. And sometimes, just as I enter some air-conditioned American store, a memory of the good warm smell of the miserable donkeys of Jerusalem will suddenly rise to my nose…

Page 60


“In fact, pain turns them into poets.” The doctor was moved. “For one upright walk to the grocery store, for one night of sleep, they open their most hidden treasure to me. The treasure of metaphors.”

Page 86


He immigrated to this country from New York and was so unlike the people of the village that as a child I thought he was different from all humanity. But when I came to the United States, I saw many people like Yeheil, and for a moment I thought I had landed in a country of librarians, until I remembered Emerson’s saying that the air and land, principles and diction determine the lines of a man’s face no less than his parents do.

Page 105


I liked the English language. I know now that I found in it the qualities I would someday discover in the women I loved–clean intelligence, the humor of the victors, as as the gracious generosity that greatness and diversity bestow on their possessors.

Page 132


A few years later, as a young man, I heard exactly the same music again just as I stepped off the ship in the port of New Orleans and went to look for a meal and eyeglasses. I wasn’t surprised. Even then I knew that Emerson was right, that old smells, sounds, and pictures lie in ambush for you no matter where you go.

Page 134


During a class in the Talmud-Torah, out of the awful boredom only wise children can feel, he started looking for something to do.

Page 190


“Liquid is important for the body.” He waved his index finger. “You have to drink a lot and not waste. Watch out for the heat, sad movies, and women.”

Page 235


“Say something in Hebrew,” I maintained a serene countenance.

Page 263


“Neither Christian nor Jew am I,” he answered me with absolute seriousness. “I am a pagan, like my fathers before me. Monothesim and optics don’t live in peace with each other.”

Page 273


“One day, my lad,” he whispered in a low, cracked voice, “you’ll meet a woman who’ll be able to talk with you about everything that interests you, and the first martini she makes you will be just as you like it, and she’ll put run and sugar in the coffee just as you like it, and you won’t have to exchange the records she buys you. She’ll know how to make you laugh, she’ll write poems to you with a wet finger on your back; and inside her flesh, if you hold your breath at the right moment, you’ll feel the handshake of the three angels. But, watch out! One day, the woman will smile, reach out, and take off your glasses, take them off and put them on the night table.”

Page 275


“All moments are right,” he declared; “you just have to know for what.”

Page 286

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