Monday, February 3, 2020

“The Way We Were Before” by Moshe Marcus

Read a novel like The Way We Were Before by Mosehe Marcus, and you wonder where memoir ends and novel begins.

Rico Marcus is a young teen, barely out of childhood. He lives in Israel, and his family are Jews from Romania. It’s the late 1950s or early 1960s, and Rico is about to get a huge lesson in family secrets.

His father takes him to a football (soccer) match in Tiberias. When the game is over, they don’t return home but instead rive to a kibbutz in the Golan Heights. They are visiting so Rico can meet Nelu Marcus, the half-brother whom Rico didn’t even know he had. Same father, different mothers, Nelu is a few years older than Rico, but the two hit it off so well that Rico decides to stay the weekend. 

The story becomes the story of Rico and Nelu, and their friendship and brotherly love will survive separation, different military experiences, marriages, girlfriends, and different personalities. 

Moshe Marcus
The author describes life in villages, on the kibbutz, and in the military with considerable detail. This is the Israel of half a century ago, and it is simultaneously a young nation and a very old people. It’s a coming-of-age novel as well and contains a few explicit scenes. The story develops slowly toward a crisis. When it comes, it comes unexpectedly.

At the end of the book, Marcus includes several pictures of himself when young, family, and friends. The pictures remind you that this work feels considerably more like a non-fiction memoir than it does a novel; perhaps the right phrase today would be “creative non-fiction.”

Before becoming a writer, Marcus had been involved in multiple artistic endeavors and had a successful business career. He acknowledges in the afterward that he wanted to turn the story of his childhood into a novel., and that’s exactly what he did here. He lives in Miami and Tel Aviv. 

The Way We Were Before is a window on daily life in Israel during the early post-independence period. It’s a story of Romanian Jews trying to find themselves in their new country. And it’s a story of boy discovering he has a brother, and how that discovery shapes the rest of his life.

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