The lives and loves of Tel Aviv’s young generation

The lives and loves of Tel Aviv’s young generation

Julian Furman turned his experience of new fatherhood into a profound analysis of life in Tel Aviv

Alex Galbinski is a Jewish News journalist

Tel Aviv: Julian Furman explores the seedy underworld of the city as well as its cultural hotspots
Tel Aviv: Julian Furman explores the seedy underworld of the city as well as its cultural hotspots

It should have been the happiest of days. After the birth of his first child, Julian Furman should have felt excitement at starting a family and getting to know his new baby daughter. Instead, he felt cast aside.

His wife threw herself into the all-consuming task of looking after a newborn, and Furman felt like a spare part. Before long, the author was seeking solace at the bottom of whisky bottles and finding the distance between him and his wife insurmountable.

He recalls that uncomfortable experience in his recently-published debut saga, This Is How We Talk: A Novel of Tel-Aviv, which explores the subject of new fatherhood.

I ask Furman if he believes his feelings were akin to a post-natal depression for men. “Absolutely,” he says without skipping a beat. “From a father’s point of view, parenthood is purely a psychological change.

“You don’t have this baby growing in you for nine months. You’re seeing changes in your wife and you are feeling the kid kick, but you’re trying to talk yourself through what it’s going to mean.

“And when it happens, you feel very much like you’re a bit-part player in your own life; like everybody else’s needs take precedence and priority over yours to the point where you don’t have any. You feel lost by the wayside in your own family unit. I felt completely adrift.”

Julian Furman
Julian Furman

Furman, who lives in Hampstead, didn’t know who to talk to and, indeed, didn’t feel that talking was the right thing to do.

“There was this idea that you should be supportive. You should be this strong, unflappable, stoic, masculine man who deals with everything and takes it on the chin,” he says.

“When you have a kid, it seems overwhelming at the beginning and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”

It was these feelings that provided Furman with the idea for This Is How We Talk, which tells the story of Lia and her husband, Yonatan, a photographer whose baby Ben is a few months old.

Lia and Yonatan have a fight and Lia tells her husband to leave the house, an episode mirrored in Furman’s own life, with him also having an argument with his wife and going to sit on a park bench – the result being the writing of this book.

The difference is that Yonatan finds solace in bars and the tents of protest movements and after meeting up with friends from his past, as well as new acquaintances, he befriends a younger woman and a mistake they make has lasting consequences.

This Is How We Talk, however, is not just about parenthood or about only one couple as Furman, 38, also explores relationships between people living in Tel Aviv. He writes of the city: “So compact and dense, so full of stories of love and joy, [Tel Aviv] is equally as sodden with misery.”

He shows the lives of those on its fringes, shining a light on dissonance among generations, the emotional disconnection of youth, racism, social justice, police brutality and the effects of the ever-present threat of war on a person’s psyche. 

Furman’s parents met in Israel – his mother was born in America but raised in Japan, while his father is Argentine – but Furman himself was born and schooled in London. He moved to Israel for a job in 2004, met his wife and ended up staying there for 12 years. Furman was struck, he says, by the “insidiousness of all the unique stresses and strains” of life in the Promised Land.

“They are always there and talked about, but they are also completely normal,” he explains. “The feeling I got was it warps society in very clear and fundamental ways not clear to the people who are living it daily.”

He elaborates: “We’re talking about the effects of the idea of this year’s war, the geography of cities and the fact that everyone knows where the bomb shelters are, that all the old buildings have elevators that open up to allow stretchers in, and the fact that wrapped up in this civilian tapestry of the city, it relies on military kinds of geographical structures, like the sirens that are used for memorial days, Yom Hazikaron, Yom HaShoah, are the same sirens that go off when you are under rocket attack.”

Furman says the whole “organisation of life” in Tel Aviv  takes things that are “incredibly abnormal” with respect to other countries and puts on them “this really strange veneer of normalcy” – and, he adds,  that’s before you go into the psychological effects of 60 years of occupation that gives another layer of effect that isn’t really acknowledged.

The novel is set in Kerem Hateymanim, a Yemenite suburb “in the centre of the beating heart [of Tel Aviv]”, where Furman and his wife also lived.

“It attracts a very specific type of person, among whom we felt very comfortable,”he says. “It is very liberal, what Haaretz terms a kind of ‘orthodox secular Orthodox’, a very Israeli kind of secular Judaism, where Judaism has become very cultural, as opposed to a religious or ethnic identity.”

Furman, who has a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy from SOAS, talks about the Tel Aviv “bubble”, of which he and his wife were very much a part.

“It was a bastion of liberalism in a country that is battling between themes of Jewish nationalism,” he explains, adding that they lived through many of the events he describes in the book.

“We moved to London because, with young children, living in the centre of Tel Aviv during the last war and the election and some of the other slightly disturbing cultural and social progressions that were happening, we wanted somewhere slightly calmer.”

Luckily for Furman, his wife put him on the path to seeing a psychologist.

“Thanks to a lot of help, I’ve come out the other end, to the point where we have another daughter and I’m enjoying fatherhood more than I’ve enjoyed anything else in my entire life,” he admits. “Communication is key.”

This Is How We Talk: A Novel of Tel-Aviv by Julian Furman is published by Freight Books and costs £9.99. It is available now

This Is How We Talk is Julian Furman's debut novel
This Is How We Talk is Julian Furman’s debut novel

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