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April 2, 2023

The Woman Beyond the Sea by Sarit Yishai-Levi ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts & MK French

Both Susan and MK reviewed The Woman Beyond the Sea by Sarit Yishai-Levi. We are publishing their reviews together so that you get two opinions.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of women's fiction novel The Woman Beyond the Sea by Sarit Yishai-Levi
March 2023; Amazon Crossing; 978-1542037556
audio, ebook, print (415 pages); women's fiction

Susan's review

A mesmerizing novel about three generations of women who have lost each other―and the quest to weave them back into a family.

I'll start my review with this comment -- this was a translated book and was difficult to read in the beginning.  It was overly dramatic in places and difficult to follow at times which I think was due to the translation.  HOWEVER, the overall storyline was fantastic and definitely worth working through the initial problems with reading it.  Along with looking at a totally dysfunctional mother and daughter, it's an interesting look at life in Israel.

Eliya is the daughter.  She is a real daddy's girl and resents her mother.  She doesn't understand her mother or why her father put up with her for the years of their marriage.  Issues with her parents go on the back burner after she falls in love.  Her husband is a narcissistic author who is living in Paris while he writes his great novel. He expects Eliya to take care of his every need even though he often treats her poorly.  He finally admits to her, at a cafe in Paris, that he is in love with someone else and she needs to leave Paris and go home.  She is devastated and can't function in life at all.  She's living in her parents' house and spending most of her time in bed.  It's only after her attempted suicide that she realizes it's time to get help to learn how to survive in life without her husband.  Though her father is worried and tries to take care of her, her mother Lily seems to have little regard for her daughter or her pain.  As we get Lily's story, the reasons for her attitude toward her family become more apparent.  Lily was left at an orphanage the day she was born.  She was raised by the nuns in a strict non emotional setting and always wished that she knew more about her mother.  When she learns that she is probably Jewish, she leaves the orphanage and tries to live life on her own.  She marries and when her beloved son dies during his first year, she's devastated.  She wanted to give her son all of the love and caring that she never received from her own mother and can't fathom life without her son.  When Eliya is born, she basically turns her care over to her husband as she continues to mourn her son.   As Eliya grows up, she has little understanding of the trials of her mother's life but she knows that she and her mother are nothing alike and that there is no common ground between them.  After her suicide attempt, Eliya begins to learn more about her mother and Lily begins slowly begins to understand her daughter and they begin to attempt to develop a mother-daughter relationship.  Will they be able to become a family or is it too late in their lives to make drastic changes?  Can they let go of their pasts, forgive each other and go into the future together?

Other than issues with the translations, this was an interesting book to read.  It was interesting to see the growth in both characters as they worked to become a family and find happiness.

MK's review

Eliya thought she had the perfect relationship with her novelist husband, but he abandoned her in a Paris cafe. This prompted a suicide attempt, which then also changed her relationship with her prickly mother Lily. Together, the two embarked on a search for Lily's biological mother, who abandoned her at a church one Christmas Eve.

We open with Eliya and her relationship, and Ari honestly isn't anything to write home about. He's a narcissist who drinks, does drugs, commits marital rape (thankfully only one barely there line) and only wants Eliya for the money her father will give her. He had her drop out of university and cater to his every whim, making Eliya believe that it was a worthwhile endeavor. He's gross and someone I wanted to reach through the page to slap, and I wanted to shake Eliya long before her suicide attempt to make her see that he wasn't worth the pain she felt. That's pretty much her mother's approach, however, and she recoils from it. Lily has always been standoffish and brittle; we see her history in chapter three. Because of Lily's upbringing, she was never able to be the warm or compassionate mother that Eliya needed and, therefore, wasn't someone that she could go to when stressed. Her father is too much of a peacemaker to insist that either woman do something they didn't want to do, so the strain in the household continued to increase until the attempt.

I wasn't a fan of how the therapist was depicted, but it was also 1972 and he embodied the stern, paternalistic approach that was used at the time. That being said, it's also a very corrective experience for Eliya. He's firm where her father generally isn't, and her "homework" is to confront her fears and delve into actual conversations with her family. This is what leads to reconnecting with Lily and learning about the past that had been missing. The story weaves through the lives of Lily, Eliya, Shaul, Eldad, and at the end Rachel. There is trauma that followed them through the generations, and the second half of the book goes through their tales once Eliya forgave Lily the emotional distance as a way to protect herself from pain and loss. And that's really what it all came down to: the need for love, acceptance, and belonging. We understand how it all happened, how each move brought on the next, and why each person behaved the way they did. The holding pattern didn't hold forever, and those cracks allowed them to listen in order to forgive the past. As the characters themselves say in some form or another, "We cannot change yesterday, and so all that remains is to live today and pray for tomorrow." Forgiveness is not forgetting where they came from, but acknowledging it and finding a way to start over. There are more tomorrows, more chances to change and learn. It's an emotional and powerful end to the novel, with hope for a better future. 

(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read for FREE)

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west.  She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.  
Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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