“Light Fell”–fathers and sons, sex and sexuality

Fallenberg, Evan. “Light Fell”, Soho Press, 2008.


Fathers and Sons, Sex and Sexuality


Amos Lassen


Evan Fallenberg begins his literary career with a beautiful first novel, “Light Fell”. The title is borrowed from the Babylonian Talmud where the expression “light fell” appears three times and used to show that beauty and desire give us reason to reflect on the true nature of life.

Joseph Licht, a professor of literature, yearned to reconnect with the five sons that he deserted when he realized that he was in love with another man, Rabbi Yoel Rosenzweig. Written in flashback, we meet Licht when he invites his sons to come to celebrate his 50th birthday in Tel Aviv in 1996. We are then taken back twenty years when Licht, a married father of five, realizes that he is gay and falls in love with an intellectual and charismatic married rabbi. Licht left his marriage and his sons as well as his Orthodox Jewish religion to go after the man he loved. The results are heart-breaking as well as extreme—his wife is left with the ultimate feeling of loss, his sons are forced to deal with the issues of loss of self-esteem and worth and begin to embark on the roads of fanaticism to national causes and religion. While this is going on, Fallenberg gives us a look at modern Israeli life which includes peeks at academia and the gay culture of the country.

When Joseph Licht left his wife Rebecca, he also left his father and his farming community where he grew up. When he looks back at the affair twenty years later, he finds that the result of his leaving are not only still with him but with everyone that he was close to. When he plans to reunite with his sons at his apartment in Tel Aviv (which he shares with another man who is out of town), he brings up memories that affect everything that he does. In preparing for this reunion, both he and his sons are forced to confront what is, what was, and what might have been.

Yoel Rosenzweig, the object of Licht’s love did not know he was gay; he was, in fact, like Licht, married. Soon after the affair began, Rosenzweig, filled with guilt, took his own life. Licht took this loss very, very hard and ended his relationship with his wife and sons. After having lived 30 years as an Orthodox Jew, he stopped observing.

Twenty years after his affair with the rabbi, Joseph Licht is sophisticated and enjoys a good life with his Brazilian lover, Pepe. He has become a complicated person but still wavers between boy and man in many of the things that he does.

One of the amazing aspects of this novel is the way Fallenberg presents the characters that represent a cross-section of Israeli society. Licht’s sons are the new Israel as can be seen by the paths they have taken in life. One is a plumber, another, an army officer, yet another, a settler and builder, and the two others, a male model and a yeshiva student. They each have problems and, in facing their father, two decades later, they are not sure how all of this will work.

Aside from being a compelling read the book forces us to question our own lives. We live today in a world where the fields of religion, politics and science not only become one but confuse us as well. Are we totally responsible for the choices we make or does desire greatly influence our options?

Does desire influence the choices we make so much that we are blind to the results that will come? Were the choices that Joseph Licht made actually choices or were they desires that his ties to religion would not allow to surface?

It is a certainty that these questions have no easy answers, if they have answers at all. We learn that Licht sees what is going on with his sons and they, likewise, see what is going on with him. They do not all see him to the same degree but there is hope that they will reach a point of understanding for their father.

As I read “Light Falls”, I found myself in so many places in the novel. Having been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home and having feelings for other men, I escaped to Israel where I fell in love with another man and we built a life together. However, my relationship did not end with suicide but with a lack of intellectual sharing. It did however last for 17 years. During that period, while living in the established home of the Jewish people, I abandoned my religion because it did not allow me to be who I was. It was not until I returned to the States that I found my place with regards to faith. The entire concept of desire in our lives I have always questioned—primarily from an existential point of view. “Light Fell” gave some of my questions a new credibility. The book did not provide the answers that I wanted but it assured me that I have not been alone in the way that I think.

Fallenberg has given us a wonderful novel to enjoy and to ponder. His prose is beautiful and his characterization is absolutely wonderful. A book that allows me to enter the psyche of one of the characters is a joy to read. The fact that it also provides a great deal of food for thought is a special bonus that we do not get enough of today. “Light Fell” is not only a book to be read and enjoyed but it is one that I, personally, will cherish.

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