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The Liar


The Liar

Goethe wrote, “There is nothing in the world more shameful than establishing one's self on lies and fables.” Lies, fables and shame form the premise of Israeli novelist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s latest novel. But at the heart of the book are questions about motivation, self-acceptance, loneliness, the nature of truth, and love.

THE LIAR tells the story of a teenager, Nofar Shalev, whose frightening encounter with a B-list celebrity, Avishai Milner, grows into a false accusation of attempted rape. It empowers Nofar in some interesting and unexpected ways, but obviously threatens to destroy Avishai. This lie and this liar intersect with other lies and liars throughout the story, even as many truths struggle toward revelation.

"THE LIAR is a thoughtful, entertaining, wise and honest novel. Sondra Silverston's translation is light-handed and lovely."

Nofar is spending her summer working in an ice cream shop. The work is dull and thankless, giving her much time to wallow in a particular brand of teenage self-pity. She is a pretty girl, but not beautiful like her younger sister, and she has been dumped by her best friend for a group of more outgoing and exciting kids. When Avishai, a former winner of a television talent show who is experiencing his own frustrations and sadness, unleashes a hurtful string of insults at Nofar, then follows her into the alley to insult her more, Nofar’s screams bring people running, and eventually the police arrive. When they ask her if he attempted to assault her, she says yes and the lie grows from there. However, there is one witness to the events, a lonely teenage boy named Lavi Maimon. What begins as blackmail turns into romance between Lavi and Nofar.

Partway through the novel, Nofar meets another liar, Raymonde Azoulai, an 88-year-old Moroccan-Israeli posing as her dead friend, Rivka Kanzenpold, on a trip with Holocaust survivors and students to Poland. Raymonde has assumed Rivka’s identity both out of grief and out of curiosity. And, as with Nofar’s lie, Raymonde’s gains ridiculous yet meaningful proportions and brings her romance. Both Nofar and Raymonde must confront the consequences of their lies: the truth will free them, but they also stand to lose much.

Gundar-Goshen writes with a straightforward style punctuated by striking poetic observations. Lavi thinks of the “apricots” of Nofar’s laughter, and her guilt, “like a Persian cat, rubbed her legs fleetingly, sat for a brief moment on her lap, then moved onward.” The chapters are short, giving insight into the troubled state of several characters --- not just Nofar, Lavi and Raymonde, but also Nofar’s parents, her sister Maya and Avishai. All are tortured by lies told, including the ones they themselves tell, but paralyzed by what might be wrought by finally telling the truth.

These characters are lonely, but lies bring them together, giving them the power to destroy as well as the chance to grow. This moral ambiguity is so compelling and finely handled that readers will be both hoping for and dreading when the various truths come to light. By the end, it is apparent that this power, new to Nofar, Raymonde and Lavi, is the theme that Gundar-Goshen is clearly playing with. Yet, another idea slowly and cleverly emerges: that of the power of fiction and what kind of lies and truths storytelling holds. One restless night, Nofar’s mother thinks that “...a story can contain a kernel of reality as well. Sometimes fiction is written in the ink of truth.” And, for Lavi and Nofar, the creativity of writing, the secret way of sharing hidden thoughts and deeds in fiction, is a liberation from lies, turning liars into artists.

THE LIAR is a thoughtful, entertaining, wise and honest novel. Sondra Silverston's translation is light-handed and lovely.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 27, 2019

The Liar
by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

  • Publication Date: August 11, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316445401
  • ISBN-13: 9780316445405