Naomi Alderman, Portfolio

Naomi Alderman



May 2012 - Naomi Alderman, 2012-2013 Literature Protégée

As part of the Rolex Arts Initiative selection process, potential protégés are invited to submit samples of their work, which show the range of their skills and talent. Below is an excerpt from Naomi Alderman's first novel Disobedience.

Rebbetson Goldfarb, the Rabbi's wife, took tiny bites of cake, and made appreciative noises.

She said: “This is wonderful, Fruma. Wonderful. You must give me the recipe.”
Fruma’s mouth drooped.

“Yes,” she said, “yes but I can't give you the recipe on the Sabbath, of course.”
She was sallow. I smirked. I wanted to lean over and whisper “you didn’t make this cake at all, did you, Fruma?” but Rebbetson Goldfarb was already posing another question, so sweetly it felt impossible not to respond.

She said: “So, Ronit, any young men in your life?”

She asked with that tender smile on her face, the one that older people always use when they want to let you know it’s time to get married.

Now here’s a thing. I wanted to tell her what she wanted to hear. I really did. At that moment, after such a pleasant evening’s conversation, I wanted to be able to say: oh yes, a doctor. Is he Jewish? Why, certainly. We’re getting married next year. We’ll live in Manhattan. I could see how delightfully the conversation would proceed from that point, how we’d talk about wedding plans and about the future. I found myself longing for that conversation with all my heart.

I wanted to say that, and I saw myself wanting it and I hated the part of myself that wanted that to be true. I heard a screaming creak from far away and I found myself thinking of a lock and an old rusted key resting heavy in my palm. This is all the explanation I can offer because, honestly, which of us really understands why we do the things we do?

I said: “Actually, Rebbetson Goldfarb, I’m a lesbian. I live with my partner in New York. Her name is Miriam. She’s a graphic artist.”

It’s not true. It’s never been true. There was a Miriam, a long time ago, but we never lived together. And the graphic artist was another woman entirely. And, let’s face it, currently I’m sleeping with a married man, so I could have said that and shocked them just as much. Or maybe not.

Published in 2006 by Touchstone

Naomi Alderman


The Liar's Gospel

May 2012 - Naomi Alderman, 2012-2013 Literature Protégée

Below is an excerpt from Naomi Alderman's third novel The Liar's Gospel.

It is important to quiet the lamb, that is the first thing. A young man, learning the skills of priesthood, sometimes approaches the task with brutality. But it must be done softly, even lovingly. Lambs are trusting creatures. Touch it on the forehead just above the spot between the eyes. Breathe slowly and evenly, close enough to the creature to inhale the meaty scent of wool. It will know if you are nervous. Hold yourself steady. Whisper the sacred words. Grasp the knife as you have practised. Plunge the blade into the neck swiftly, just below the jaw. There must be no pausing. The knife must be sharp enough that almost no pressure is needed. Move it down evenly and quickly, severing the tendons and nerves as the blood begins to flow and the lamb’s muscles spasm. Withdraw. The entire motion should take less than the time of one in-breath.

Hold the lamb so that the blood gushes down, that it may be caught in the sacred cup. There is a great deal of blood; the life is in the blood. It is appropriate at this point to meditate on the blood in your own body, on how quickly and easily it could be released, on how one day it will cease to flow. Sacrifice is a meditation on vulnerability. Your blood is no redder than this creature’s. Your skin is no tougher. Your understanding of the events which will lead to your own death is probably no greater than this lamb’s comprehension.

The smell of it is strong: iron and salt and sharpness. A priest catches the blood in the cup. The cup becomes full. The priest scatters the blood, spatters it to the four corners of the altar. The smell increases. The lamb stops twitching. The last traces of life are gone from it. This is how quickly it happens. When the blood is drained, slice open the skin and pull it from the carcass. Now the creature is meat. Every living being is meat for another. Do you think that the mosquito – one of the smallest of God’s creatures – looks on us as anything other than food? Worms will one day devour you – do you imagine they will notice your intellect, your kindness, your riches, your beauty? Everything is eaten by some other thing. Do not think that because you have knives of bronze you are more than this lamb. All of us are lambs before the Almighty.

Published in 2012 by Viking

Naomi Alderman


Five Voyages

May 2012 - Naomi Alderman, 2012-2013 Literature Protégée

Below is an excerpt from Naomi Alderman's unpublished short story Five Voyages.

By Car
The city clanks and grinds and bellows. It is a living mechanical organism. There are trees, yes, and wide open parks, but they are not the matter of the city. Its heart is pure clockwork and holds no interest for you. You have already begun to leave as soon as you arrive. You stay only long enough to secure your passage out in one of the cars. You were offered a seat in a six-person roadster. There’s no room for passengers in a six-seater; everyone must be a driver as well. Fortunately you have picked up the basics. The others are happy to have you. With you, the genders are even, three men and three women. This makes a complex business a little less difficult – when the men sleep, the women drive. When the women sleep, the men drive. There is no way but onward.

By this point, your travels themselves are a source of interest for your fellow drivers. They beg you for tales of the desert, and have you really seen one of the great Dwelling-Ships? They are all young, these drivers, you notice. They are fascinated to hear your account of the ways the language changes with the mode of transport.

“Yoiks,” says one of the girls, “we’ll have to come up with something jolly special for you after all that.”

“Yoiks” is not a word you have heard spoken out loud before. You begin to suspect that the car people are inventing a language for you, deliberately to pander to your expectations or prejudices. Why else would they use this bizarre slang? They seem to change their words for perfectly ordinary things as often as they change the tyres on their vehicles. Change while the tyres are still good, they say, and you’ll never risk a burst on a fallen thorn-tree branch sending you into a den of gargans. So it is with their language. One day the steering wheel is the hondabonda, the next day it’s a michaw – which seems to be an expression of respect – the next day it’s a ridditriddit, which is uttered with a contemptuous yawn. Try as you might, you cannot spot when the words change.

“Are you doing this on purpose?” you say to that same girl a few nights later, sharing a cigarette of the Patented Relaxing Cure.

“On purpose my rinkidink? What are you pibbling about?”

You can just about understand her, because you have been concentrating and making notes. She has called you ‘rinkidink’ more than once – you have an idea what it means. They even put on a curious magical ceremony for you, burning a circle of earth like the wheel of their machine with motor oil in the scrubland, ululating and crying out. It strikes you as a deliberate attempt to be intriguing.

Short story, unpublished

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