Avital Gad-Cykman’s fine debut collection Life In, Life Out is a book of flashes, or rather, rapid illuminations of everyday situations. The flashes are divided into two parts: “Minute Life Length” tends toward realism and “Sudden Changes” is more surreal. In a general manner, this is literature of exile: an Israeli author who lives in Brazil and writes in English. It brings to mind the Russian Vladimir Nabokov and the Polish Joseph Conrad, both writing in English, their second language, working from within a space that allows for distance and perspective. The same comes through the writing in this book.

The flashes in Life In, Life Out are often narrated by women or are about women, wives, lovers and mothers. The interesting choice of not naming characters in general (calling them “husbands” “mothers” “son” “daughter” etc.) makes them anyone, or rather, any of us, involving the readers in the story and making us a part of it.

The flashes speak of women’s relationships--in “Once a Month We Play” these are mostly relationships with other women--but in “All of Them” the narrator says: "Serving tables is not as difficult as dealing with men."

Interestingly, in “Once a Month We Play” the narrator takes the first person plural to speak about women surrounded by war and death: “Each of us young women has gone through the first year’s mourning, the second year’s recovery, an attempt at new relationships, and then nothing, or rather ‘something’ that we can’t capture with words. We tried ‘loneliness,’ ‘void,’ and ‘vacuum...’” The entire narration takes place while the women play with toy soldiers and with children. The roles of men and women are divided here: while the men protect the borders and kill other husbands, the women produce children who one day will also be husbands who kill husbands.

The war is constant in Gad-Cykman’s stories: soldiers, border protection, and children's games. War sometimes appears simply as a quick reference but it is a constant situation so it determines the lives of the characters.

However difficult the situation appears to be, however, when the narrator speaks in the plural, as in “Once a Month We Play” or “Sudden Changes,” the group gathers power against the circumstances. On the other hand, the sense of a group threatens to diminish the individuality and the power to change.

In several flashes such as “The Bison,” sexuality and sensuality propel the story forward. In “The Bison” the character of the mother appears in relation to her body, pregnancy. The pregnant woman is involved with the senses: the olives she eats link her from the first sentence to the bison and to words spoken in Arabic by a shepherd who represents “the other.” The character is named Sara Frishman: Sara brings to mind Abraham’s wife, and Frishman means a vigorous man, healthy, full of life and active.  Everything revolves around the sensuous: there are smells coming from the vicinity: a child's dirty diaper, dates and the Arabian shepherd’s sweat. There is also a relationship here between the Arabic words and the female body: “It had been long since words played with her body like that."

In “Sudden Changes,” however, the narrator is a man: "The ocean has been generous to us, as well as the fields, the women, the rains.” According to the narrator, women arise between the fields and the rain like another element of nature: their bodies flourish like plants. The text is marked by this full-of-lust, rather inebriated narrator, surrounded by the sea and the smell of fish and fruit. To him, "Their [the women’s] bodies blossom and open like sea anemones, moving round and mature limbs.” Women’s legs open, exposing vaginas that resemble gleaming mangos full of juice, and he says, "they intoxicate us with the scent of the earth.” The narrator, unlike the women, appears to have "lost the command of nature’s signs."

As you go on reading, it is amusing to notice how often animals populate the flashes: a cat, buffalo, donkey, rooster, horse, wolf, bee, frog, as well as grasshoppers, birds, hyenas and fish. Sometimes they are elements of comparison and on other occasions they are key characters. In “Once a Month We Play” roosters and a donkey open the story, challenging what is generally considered to be their “true nature”: “The farm animals’ roles keep changing according to their preferences. We were wrong, wrong, wrong, to think that all donkeys or all roosters share the same nature.”

As a final observation, it is fascinating to find in “Mines” a comparison between words and mines: “Words blow off. As do Mines.” It is an approach we see in Homer: a connection between literature and war or between the arts and war (just remember Picasso and his Guernica - the frames are not made to decorate houses; they are weapons of war). “The Bison” as well as other flashes evokes a notion of vanguard. The words take shape and explode like mines, and in “The Bison” they blow off into the body of Sara.
This collection celebrates such words.