Some novels are written for adults. Not necessarily because they are sexually explicit or excessively violent, but because they are for readers who aren't looking for easy answers or paint-by-numbers plots. Snapshots by Israeli author Michal Govrin is such a novel, difficult but thought-provoking in the best way. Snapshots opens with the news that Ilana Tsuriel, a renowned Israeli architect, has died in a car crash. Her husband is sorting through the papers and journals she's left behind, and these documents form the majority of the novel unsent letters to her father, a pioneer Zionist; sketches of her work in progress; snapshots from her travels; and most surprising, the very intimate account of an affair with a Palestinian theater director, Sayyid. The mix of text, photographs and hand-drawn illustrations create a visual experience rare in fiction, and the shifts in time and place from New Jersey to Paris to Jerusalem increase the sense of mobility and fragmentation of Ilana's professional and personal life.
The controversial nature of Ilana's project, creating a series of impermanent structures in Jerusalem highlighting the connection of Israelis and Palestinians to the physical land of Israel, is also at the heart of her conflicted emotional relationships. Through letters home we learn she was estranged from her father, as much as she was drawn to his sincerity and shaped by his ideas. Her ambivalent relationship with her emotionally distant husband, Alain, a French Holocaust scholar, is hampered by her infidelities and his immersion in his work. Even her colleagues question Ilana's recklessness and are suspicious of her ties with Sayyid. The penultimate section of the book, a day-to-day account of Ilana's life outside Jerusalem with her children during the Gulf War, is a showdown between her artistic idealism and the political realities of living life in a bomb shelter. Ultimately, Snapshots asks more questions than it answers, and though it dazzles with poetic metaphors, one occasionally longs for a more straightforward story. But Govrin's novel is a brave experiment that encourages us to ponder the many facets of ourselves.