A writer wakes up in a hotel room in an unfamiliar city. His clothes are muddy and he doesn’t know how long he’s been lying in bed. He came to participate in a literary festival that is long over—why is he still there? When he desperately attempts to reconstruct his lost days, he learns that he told people at the festival that his best friend had died.
Except that his friend is still alive.
This disorienting state launches the story of a profound friendship that begins in childhood and follows the intertwining life paths of two men. Over the decades, their journeys diverge and reconverge, as the imaginary worlds of their early days gradually fade but never vanish.
The protagonist, Yonatan, stays on in Mexico City, resisting the unavoidable return to his wife and infant son back home in Tel Aviv. Faced with the terrifying certainty that his closest friend, Yoel, is going to die, he struggles to preserve his sanity. But why does the impending death—which may or may not in fact happen—frighten him so much that he opts to stay in a foreign country far away from his family? And Why doesn’t he believe he can go back to Israel and save his childhood friend?
Yonatan becomes convinced that a beautiful woman he met at a party is the only person who can save him, and he sets off on an obsessive search. As he roams the city streets, his feverish memory revisits the formative events of his friendship with Yoel in an effort to comprehend what went wrong. They were two unpopular boys in “Beit Ha’Kerem” a rigidly middle-class Jerusalem neighborhood, living across the street from each other at the end of a cul-de-sac. They buttressed themselves inside a fictional universe of their own making, which they were willing to defend at any cost. They were two boys who fell in love with the same girl. But when the fantasy worlds they created invaded real life, and a peculiar yellow fog engulfed the neighborhood, their childhood—and their bond—met with tragedy and defeat.
As the boys mature and enter high school, their adolescent days grow turbulent. Yonatan’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, and death permeates their home. Sensing that he is somehow to blame for her illness, he stays out late every night and wakes up in strange places. He begins to build new imaginary worlds—alone, this time, with pen and paper. Yonatan “cannot stop lying,” and so the diary in which he documents his mother’s final days takes on a life of its own and veers into fiction. He wants to lean on Yoel, but his old friend has found new social circles and cultivated new ambitions. Was that the crossroads where they lost each other? Or was it fifteen years later, when they travelled to Europe together and Yoel almost got them both killed?
Yoel later becomes a successful lawyer at a flourishing law firm, but somewhere in his mid-thirties he loses his grip on reality, moves back in with his parents in the old neighborhood, and seldom leaves his childhood room. Yonatan longs to understand what happened to his best friend: were the seeds of calamity sown in childhood? Can Yoel still be saved?
At 37, a married man and a father, Yonatan is torn: lured into his past, where he hopes to find answers, he also fears drowning in the old make-believe world, which he comes to realize he, too, has never really left.
Largely autobiographical, the narrative travels smoothly back and forth in time to depict a powerful friendship, its inevitable and painful dissolution, and the waning power of youthful imagination. Taking place in Israel, the events unfold under the constant shadow of military service, animosity between Arabs and Jews, and the societal demand that boys be men. Above all, this is a universal story of family and love, friendship and fatherhood, the savage forces of memory, imagination and writing, and the life one leads after losing a loved one—a life that can still prove exciting and surprising.