This Acclaimed novel is set in Palestine in 1895 – the year that saw the publication of Theodor Herzl’s book, The Jewish State. This marked the beginning of modern Zionism.
Alon Hilu’s novel brilliantly captures in microcosm this seminal moment which would lead eventually to the Nakba, or catastrophe, for the Palestinian people in 1948.
The story is told in the form of two diaries written by a young boy Saleh Rajani and the Zionist settler Isaac Luminsky.
Saleh’s family own a large and richly fertile estate, which Luminsky seeks to take control of as part of the early Zionist settlement.
Luminsky worms his way into the Rajani family by seducing Saleh’s mother, Afifa, and befriending Saleh.
The boy appears deeply disturbed with delusions and suicidal thoughts. At first Luminsky appears to Saleh to be a genuine friend, and the colonist’s relationship with Afifa is described in Luminsky’s diaries as mutually passionate.
The descriptions of events in the different diaries increasingly diverge.
At first, it appears as if Saleh’s writings are embellished by his state of mind, while Luminsky seems to be more measured.
However, what becomes apparent is Luminsky’s failure to empathise with or understand anyone around him. This is brilliantly illuminated in the glimpses we get of his marriage.
By constrast, Saleh’s diary is less faithful to the bare facts of the story, yet his “delusions” are gradually revealed as prophetic of the coming catastrophe.
Saleh is able to see the violence and destruction that lies beneath Luminsky’s subtle and apparently benign takeover of the Rajani estate.
This novel brilliantly captures the roots of an imperial project, and evokes the callous way in which the Zionists displaced and destroyed families and communities.
Some characters in The House of Rajani are sometimes crude and two-dimensional.
But the diaries of the two protagonists have an authentic feel to them, and the narrative is always gripping.
The House of Rajani
by Alon Hilu