When We Danced on Water. “A Tale of One City and Two Residents” was the headline, and while the review referred correctly to a novel with two main characters, the one city it talked about was Tel Aviv. Not once was Berlin mentioned, which I found strange, as much of the narrative dealt with the characters’ suppressed pasts in that city.
The story starts in Tel Aviv with a chance meeting between Teo, the former founder and choreographer of the Tel Aviv Ballet now in the twilight of his life, and Vivi, a middle-aged waitress unable to fulfill her potential as an artist. The two develop an unlikely friendship that manages to span the differences in their ages, enabling them to open up and reveal how each of them was damaged in the past.
The two parallel stories are not exactly balanced. Vivi’s guilt over an illicit relationship with a German during her service in the Israeli army seemed, in my opinion, not to be complicated enough to leave scars that would last for decades. On the other hand, Teo’s story is incredibly rich. I could not have imagined such fresh, original ways to relate the horrors of the Holocaust and its effect on survivors.
The book’s main strength is how it portrays the world of dance, gripping readers to their seats in watchful anticipation as the dancers literally jump off the page. The fluid descriptions of movement and of one particular ballet that changed the main character’s life forever are quite exceptional.
Teo and Vivi come across as stronger characters and more full of life than those who filled the pages of Fallenberg’s first novel, Light Fell. In both books, the plot’s development hinges on a certain, almost instantaneous click between two protagonists, and in both cases I couldn’t fully accept that this click had occurred. Even so, accepting the fact that Teo and Vivi had become soul mates in When We Danced on Water is not essential to appreciating the stories they have to tell.
Evan Fallenberg, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, is the director of fiction for the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University. In addition to his two novels, he is a well known translator of Hebrew novels. His translation of Meir Shalev’s A Pigeon and a Boy won the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction.
Buy When We Danced on Water and read it now!