The Salt Line by Youval Shimoni
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Translator: Michael Sharp
In 1904, a wounded Russian Jew turns up in northern India on the run from his pursuers and his own conscience. He doesn’t miss anyone – neither his parents nor the pregnant girl he has deserted; his people or his revolutionary comrades. He is cared for by an English doctor who is obsessed with the man who stole his wife from him in Rome, and has devised a scheme to lure his rival, an archeologist, to the region and take revenge on him.
From this dual structure founded on the betrayal of colleagues and family members, two separate plots emerge. In one, we see acts of terrorism against the Tsar and his ministers, and the horrors of pogroms in early 20th century Russia; in the other, a caravan goes into the desert on a private journey of revenge that is both mad and carefully planned.
A hundred years later when the Russian’s grandson comes from Israel in order to investigate his grandfather’s disappearance, it is not only the family connection that motivates him. Slowly, he approaches the misdeeds his grandfather had been implicated in. But the revelations go further and also touch his own life. What seemed at first to be a story about distant exotic events finally brings the present time and conditions into sharp focus
The Salt Line is a wide-ranging novel that spans several continents, generations, and wars, wherein single moments of decisiveness and hesitation determine the course of future lifetimes and repeat within them, a cycle from which there is no telling whether escape is possible. The characters – Russians, Britons, Israelis and Indians – range from those who believe in an ideal or a god, to those who are entirely faithless; the action ranges from St. Petersburg to a remote district capital in the Indian Himalayas, and from snowy mountains to arid dunes.
The Salt Line is a singular literary achievement and a masterpiece of contemporary fiction.
Year first published: 2023