One Night, Markovitch, a story about the eternal themes of love, yearning, survival and resistance, is a passage into the multifaceted portraits of human existence. The narrative unfolds, following our two main protagonists, Yaacov Markovitch and Zee Feinberg– the best of friends who couldn’t possibly be more unlikely-matched counterparts. The burly Zeev, with his animated moustache is the epitome of virility, a sex symbol, which all the men in the village aspire to, and whom all the ladies desire to have ruffle their feathers. His polar opposite, comrade in arms, and best friend, Yaacov is a gaunt, scrawny structured man with a droopy nose, and the repelling powers of the wrong end of a magnet, repulsing everyone and anyone who dares to seize even the slightest glimpse of him.
From the start of the novel, the improbable and comical friendship of these two men is immediately identified and accentuated alongside Zeev’s infamous promiscuity, which quickly lands him into trouble. The opening tone of the novel is therefore one of light-hearted farce in which moustaches, vaginas and breast seem to take centre-stage with a lifeline of their own. All the while, the reader is vaguely aware of a war taking place, but only in so far as they are told that Yaacov’s unpleasant face makes for a successful weapon smuggler, and that Zeev’s masculinity is exerted through his post as night guard of the village, and exercised every once in a while through the killing of some Arabs. War is consequently the background clamour that frames the narrative and gives structure to the chronology of events, but is rarely allowed to take centre-stage. By not focussing so blatantly on the on-going war, Gundar-Goshen instead concentrates on the human connections and the daily preoccupations of unreciprocated love, ill-chosen marriages, and problematic family dynamics, which the war seeps into, antagonising the reader with the fact that the background music can never quite be fully turned off.
It seems from the offset that many of the characters are unhappy in love and this only proves to be true as the novel unravels and we see that even the characters, who are ardently in love with one another, still find themselves unhappy. A mixture of both the circumstances in which they find themselves, often as an indirect result of war, and the looming words which are left unspoken, but are projected in the characters’ surroundings, prove to be the recipe for the irreconcilability of happiness and love. It is often in the boundless silences, behind the intimacy of closed doors that the most is said.
We quickly see how Yaacov’s home transforms into a mirror of its inhabitants with the frostiness and frigidity of Bella Markovitch settling in the hearth, just as Zeev’s secret blocks the sunrays with clouds that cluster over his home, threatening to permanently overshadow them. This dampen haze is not only encapsulated in the limpness of their usually lively home, but is more poignantly directly reflected in their son’s muted state.
It is through the characters’ piercing misery, that the question is raised whether love and happiness are mutually inclusive. We see Yaacov suffer both physical and emotional blows because of his love for Bella and although he does not explicitly admit to his unhappiness, the reader has to consider whether Yaacov, who has never really known true happiness in a romantic relationship, is even equipped to contemplate what constitutes it. Sonya, who is presented as a simple woman, with a good intuition and a great understanding of the unfairness of life, delivers our answer when questioned about her own happiness, she replies “Happiness?…since when have happiness and love have anything to do with each other?” (P154)
The raunchiness, which peppers the first few chapters and entices the reader with the slapstick humour, is quickly subdued and is substituted with much deeper conversations about depression, delusion, expectations and thwarted passions. The reader is cajoled to endure these themes, which whilst are sombre in nature, are the very ones that we find freckled in our every day lives.