You Have to Read to Believe

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Ariana Melamed

 

A small woman longs to have a red helicopter and goes out to heal pest ridden wheat fields - in a more than unusual method. Miki Ben Cnaan creates in her debut novel Wheat Mother a universal fantastic modern fairytale - and manages no less than a double miracle. "Keep writing, and do it now" calls to her Arianna Melamed  (Published in YNet, 29.08.06)

 

It's a clear case of suspending all doubts. This little miracle that enables the human mind to ignore the fact that the material in front of it is actually black lines on a paper, and gladly sink into a fictional story, loosing oneself in it completely. Especially talented writers can pull it off within the first few pages, and in rare occasions a double miracle occurs: the first sentence is enough for you to suspend all doubts. Mother Wheat by Miki Ben Cnaan makes it happen from page one: "For as long as I can remember, I longed to have a red helicopter".

The zealous protagonist is a small woman, miniature, a midget - depending how you look at it - and looks was what she got from life for much too long. When the story begins, she is 58, works as a lab technician, doing mainly urine tests (she can tell what sex, how old and in what kind of mood the patient is, according to the fluid) and dreaming big dreams. One of those - flat packed with mock-Japanese funny building instructions - arrives on her roof, and she assembles it filled with the joy of someone who knows they are going to fly. The readers, of course, fly with her. Because that helicopter, and the point of view of its lady pilot, are just the gate to a bundle of events that are fantastic as they are plausible, in the same firm decisiveness razor-sharp funny fantasy writers use to create fairytales for grown ups.

The inventiveness in Mother Wheat resembles that of Fay Weldon at her best - the pungent cynicism and surging humor included. The author's precision in catching nuances of varied human interactions and her ability to recognize the power of chance, puts her book on that special shelf reserved for the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood. Although Ben Cnaan is not as pessimistic as those two. She rather deal with amusing ways of defying one's fate and especially in the healing -  of lost souls as well as fields of wheat in three different continents. The book's subtitle Holes in the Virtual Curtain is not really needed here - as those holes, that enable us to let go of pre-determined thought patterns and notice new ones, similarly to those we discover by passing in flight above the small details - are frequently discovered while reading the book.

 

The Courage to Tell a Story, Free of Flattery

 

Ben Cnaan's little-big protagonist discovers she has the ability to heal poorly plants using the connection between the mind fields, the computer and the actual world. Go on - read and you too will be convinced it is possible, and that "logic is no more than the idealization of human imagination". Soon enough, our heroine and her similarly impossible friends  - tall and gloomy Oleg, who likes playing the piccolo in the nude; Julia, who cultivates olives as well as disrespect for the Jewish fate; Walid & Hamid, both emerging from a Bedouin village in southern Israel to become mini tycoons - build a telepathy based pest control empire. Yeah. You have to read to believe. And as I said - Miki Ben Cnaan has it in her to perform this miracle and persuade the readers to suspend all doubt and completely believe.

 

How is such a miracle performed? The simple answer is: with huge amounts of talent. Mother Wheat marks the birth of such a talent. Nothing in this book suggests it is the debut prose creation of its author - up until now not a word artist, but rather a painter and set designer. I can imagine her holding the red helicopter parts and screwdrivers, and eagerly going about its assembly, just as she passionately goes about telling her story. The book does not hold a promise. It realizes it, very precisely, in a smart, intelligent and funny way, proving it can hold a sophisticated and complicated plot and has the courage to tell a story, without using an inch of flattery - rightly assuming the story has true value. And there is a bonus: we get a glance of the creative process through the book's appendix, containing an array of sketches that reflect the multi layered colorful way in which Ben Cnaan's mind operates.

 

Mother of What is not merely a heart warming fairytale about a small smart woman defeating the world's silly people and winning her freedom (although her path offers her, naturally, many rivers to cross). It is also an insightful book, full of rule bending and aphorisms that constantly challenge the reader's premises. This, alongside the plot, are handed to us in a rich language that dares to stay true to character and loyal to the plot, without trying to appeal to the less refined reader. For example: " Once in a blue moon, an accidental encounter draws two people together, and surprised, they find themselves inseparable. Life has this peculiar way of joining two strangers together, creating the illusion of a shared fate. They feel great warmth as if finding a long lost sibling or a parent that has gone astray and for whom they have longed their entire lives. These encounters are by nature very much like a promise, drawing its power from knowing it will never be fulfilled."

 

Once in a blue moon, an accidental encounter with a book turns into a surprisingly intimate experience: while reading it for the second time I wished it to be translated to European languages, because its piercing logical criticism and the arrows it shoots at the globalized world, with its stereotypic ways of thinking, go far beyond the boundaries of Hebrew and the Hebrew reading audience. Ben Cnaan created a modern fairytale, fantastic and universal and yet extremely plausible. For my own selfish reasons as a reader, I would like to read more of her writing as soon as possible. And for my extreme pleasure I would like to thank her. Thank her for the unique beautiful experience and the liberating laughter that came with it.