Book notes | House on Endless Waters

Yoel Blum, the main character in Emuna Elon’s 2020 novel House on Endless Waters, is a renowned author living in Israel. When his Dutch publisher asks him to come to Amsterdam for a book promotion, he hesitates. He knows he was born in Amsterdam, but he and his mother and sister left there when he was very young, and the city was occupied by the Nazis. His now-deceased mother had told him never to visit Amsterdam.

Yoel and his wife decide to go there anyway and while there, they visit the Jewish Historical Museum where they watch a filmstrip of Jewish life before the war. In one brief scene, he recognizes his mother and sister, who are with a man he assumes is his father although he doesn’t remember him at all. His mother is holding a baby, but the baby isn’t him. Yoel and his wife watch the film over and over trying to determine what is going on. 

A new understanding
They return to Israel, but the nagging feeling that he must find out more about the people in the filmstrip pulls him back to Amsterdam. He finds a hotel room to rent in the area of the city where his family lived. He returns many times to the Jewish Museum and walks the city, finding landmarks of Jewish life. His numerous notebooks become filled with stories of his family, their friends, and eventually their outcome. Thus begins his journey of finding out the many things that his mother kept from him, which leads to a new understanding of who he is.   

The book goes back and forth from Yoel’s current world and his Jewish life during the German occupation of Amsterdam in World War II. He gathers facts about his own family and the lives of those close to them and spins all of this into a story of turmoil and terror.

Emuna Elon is a female writer, which surprised some in the UMRA Book Club as she writes about a male character. This book was translated from Hebrew. Many in the book group felt the book was confusing at first but most agreed that it was an excellent look at the plight of the Jews during this terrifying period of Dutch history.

—Stephanie Daily, UMRA Book Club I member

Publication date: 
August 26, 2021
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