House on Endless Waters: A Novel

by Emuna Elon

Book, 2020



Call number




Washington Square Press (2020), 336 pages


"Elon powerfully evokes the obscurity of the past and its hold on the present, as we stumble through revelation after revelation with Yoel. As we accompany him on his journey...we share in his loss, surprise and grief, right up to the novel's shocking conclusion." --The New York Times Book Review "Emuna Elon's powerful House on Endless Waters is essential Jewish fiction...a deeply immersive achievement that brings to life stories that must never be forgotten." --USA TODAY "A story of love, loss, and yearning. Lyrically phrased and often powerfully visual...this deeply felt tale offers a rewarding meditation on survival." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review) In the tradition of The Invisible Bridge and The History of Love, comes an exquisitely moving novel about a writer who discovers the truth about his mother's wartime years in Amsterdam, unearthing a shocking family secret that becomes the subject of his magnum opus. At the behest of his agent, renowned author Yoel Blum reluctantly agrees to visit his birthplace of Amsterdam to promote his books, despite promising his late mother that he would never return to that city. While touring the Jewish Historical Museum with his wife, Yoel stumbles upon footage portraying prewar Dutch Jewry and is astonished to see the youthful face of his beloved mother staring back at him, posing with his father, his older sister...and an infant he doesn't recognize. This unsettling discovery launches him into a fervent search for the truth, shining a light on Amsterdam's dark wartime history--the underground networks that hid Jewish children away from danger and those who betrayed their own for the sake of survival. The deeper into the past Yoel digs to tell the story of his life, the better he understands his mother's silence, and the more urgent the question that has unconsciously haunted him for a lifetime--Who am I?--becomes. Part family mystery, part wartime drama, House on Endless Waters is an unforgettable meditation on identity, belonging, and the inextricable nature of past and present.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kimkimkim
This book has a brilliance about it. There is a moment where you just can’t help but go “AHA”. The author lives his plot through all the murk, confusion, and hatred that is nazism in WW II Holland. I started out being totally disconnected from this story and where it was going and in a
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thunderclap I became so connected I totally got it and knew where it was going and that was the brilliance.

Yoel Blum is a writer, born in Holland, who lives in “the Israeli reality” and because of this all his characters “are connected with that reality as well.” But the stories he tells are “about Man wherever he breathes....wherever he loves...wherever he yearns.” Although his stories may be precise in their detail and exploration of the human condition Blum is a fuzzy man. He is a man who can sit cross legged on a carpet in a hotel room immediately aware of his ignorance and his inability to really “see” people. He doesn’t relate in detail to his wife and family, doesn’t remember their names, doesn’t remember their physical touch. He wanders, looking into windows spying on his characters as they develop his story. Never doubt it is always his story. Despite a long ago promise to his Mother to never return, his story takes him back to his birthplace, Amsterdam. Trying to ascertain anything about his past he begs his sister for background. She warns that the Dutch “don’t talk about waters that have flowed onward...being Dutch is no simple matter.”

Researching, digging deeper until his characters take on their own reality Blum challenges you to imagine being kept out of a park because of your religion, to not even be allowed to stand on the outskirts and peek in. Each day to be deprived of another necessity of life, liberty, transportation, food, shelter, and finally your bicycle. And this is the brightest of the horror, the rest is so much darker. This book inspires such unbelievable heartbreak, tragedy yet also fierce determination to protect and survive. This book doesn’t overlook humor even while it is steeped in reflection. Baum’s one truth is that he doesn’t “know how to separate his life in his imagination from reality, which to him was imaginary as well.” Brilliant.

“Realistic writing - to describe things exactly as they look. Surrealistic writing - to describe things not the way they look but they way they actually are.” What? So brilliant.

I loved this book. Thank you NetGalley and Atria Books for a copy.
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LibraryThing member SilversReviews
Never go back to Amsterdam were words Yoel’s mother drilled into him, but she would never tell why.

When one of Yoel's books was translated into Dutch, he and his wife needed to go to Amsterdam even though he felt guilty about defying his mother’s wishes.

While they were in Amsterdam, Yoel and
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Bat-Ami visited a Jewish museum, looked at some still films, and saw his mother, his father, his sister, and himself in the films.

Yoel wondered why no one ever told him about this part of his life. He had to ask his sister, and he HAD to find out.

We follow Yoel as he moves around Amsterdam in hopes of finding anything that will help him discover who he is. His sister did help him with information, but he had to be there and see for himself as he unraveled the mystery of his life and his mother’s life.

The writing and story line are absolutely mesmerizing and beautiful as well as heartbreaking.

HOUSE ON ENDLESS WATERS is a book that will stay with me because of its haunting beauty and its profound, thought-provoking story line.

Historical fiction fans will devour this book and the marvelous research Ms. Elon did with Amsterdam's history and its part in WWII. 5/5

This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member tamidale
Yoel Blum is a writer who grew up in Israel. However, he was born in Amsterdam. His mother had told Yoel that he must never go back to Amsterdam. She also never mentioned why or anything about her life while living there. After she died, Yoel had to go there for publicity for the release of one of
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his books.

The trip opened up a Pandora’s box for Yoel. He ends up staying for an extended time, determined to dig up the past and write his mother’s story. What he doesn’t realize is that his mother’s story will reveal things about his own past that he would have never imagined.

The story was astonishing and one that needed to be told. During World War II, many residents risked everything to save Jewish children from the Nazi’s by taking them in and passing them off as their own or by hiding them in different places. After the war, many children never found out who they really were.

I almost did not finish this book. In the beginning it just didn’t flow well and I had trouble following the transitions in the story. I really wanted to add it to my DNF shelf, but instead, I did something I almost never do—I turned to the end of the story to see what was going on. That is the only thing that kept me committed to finishing, because I had to find out how the story unfolded. Once I got into the rhythm of the author’s writing, it was easier to follow.
I’m glad I finished the story and hope other readers will find it an easier read than I did.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.
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LibraryThing member eyes.2c
Shocks from the past!

I must admit that I was not as hooked on this book as I thought I would be from the publishers blurb. Whether it was the pace of the story or just Yoel Blum himself I am unsure.
A successful Israeli author, Yoel's publisher wants him to go to Amsterdam for the launch of his
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latest book which has been translated into Dutch. Conflicted, Yoel does, despite having promised his mother to never return to the place of his birth, Amsterdam.
Of course the first question is why did Yoel's mother demand such a commitment.
An unplanned visit to Jewish Historical Museum has Yoel and his wife chancing upon a grainy movie of a wedding. To Yoel's amazment and concern in the frames he sees his mother as part of a family, holding an unknown baby boy.
Such a discovery haunts Yoel. Some few days after, he returns once again from Israel to Amsterdan determined to find answers.
Make no mistake this is complex novel on various levels.
Elon's use of language, the images she creates are marvelous.
Despite all this I was not as committed to Yoel's story as I'd hoped.

An Atria Books ARC via NetGalley
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
A book within a book, sometimes can be confusing. Reading this i found it worked better in book form, might be confusing on audio. Until I read, Dutch girl, my knowledge of the Holocaust I that country, was skim. This book filled in some of the blanks in my knowledge.

An author travels to Denmark to
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uncover the secret of his family. There as he unveils his own past, he places it in the context of a new novel. Interesting structure, and I liked traveling along, as he described the present Holland and his forays into the past. The story he is writing is harrowing as young mothers, attempt everything to keep their children safe. It relatively easy at one point in the book, to guess the secret, but I was still compelled to read to the end.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Amazing book. Real characters. Real events set in Amsterdam.
LibraryThing member ozzer
Emunah Elon’s aim in HOUSE ON ENDLESS WATERS is to tell about Amsterdam’s wartime history with the Holocaust. She treats Dutch cooperation with the Nazis, along with their resistance in the form of hiding Jews and sequestering Jewish children with Christian families.

What makes her novel unique,
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however, is Elon’s use of an intriguing literary construct. Her protagonist is a famous Israeli writer, Yoel Blum. By immersing himself into daily life in Amsterdam, he researches his next novel about an unusual mystery that surrounds his mother, Sophie. Although recently deceased in Israel, Sophie lived in Amsterdam with her husband and two children during the war. Elon emphasizes Yoel’s research activity by dividing her novel into a series of “notebooks” that Yoel fills during his time in the city. He collects elements for his novel by observing Sophie’s neighborhood from his hotel room balcony, wandering the city’s streets and canals, visiting its famous museums, and even going to a former collection site where Jews were deported to the camps. Elon alternates these contemporary scenes with historical sequences evoking what must have been Sophie’s lived experience with the ever-tightening net ensnaring Dutch Jews. Elon begins the novel by separating these two plot lines but slowly merges them as the novel progresses. His research clearly also changes Yoel. He begins to feel paranoid about being a Jew; develops a deeper understanding of his mother’s post-war behavior; becomes more attached to his own family and feels more empathy toward the Dutch children he sees while wandering the city.

The novel explores the notion that past and present are linked. Although often obscure, the past inevitably shapes the present. While on a book tour, Yoel visits the Jewish Historical Museum where he finds a photograph of his family during the war. Inexplicably, the young boy in the picture is not him. He learns the meaning of this shocking revelation from his older sister, Nettie. He then seeks to discover more by an extended sojourn to Amsterdam. “He would have to weave the story of his life with the few torn threads Nettie handed him.” Of course, there is little there for him to learn for sure. Yet, with the powerful imagination of a gifted writer, Yoel fills in the blanks. Using elements that he sees in the city, he congers Sophie as a carefree young woman who eventually loses her entire family and freedom. He conceives a wealthy Jewish banker, living above his family, who enforces Nazi decrees. He sees the different treatment of the well-connected banker’s daughter and her family. In the final analysis, Elon gives the reader a remarkably personal depiction of the Nazi occupation of Holland while providing an intimate view of how a novelist works.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This substantial, multi-tiered novel takes place in two realms: Amsterdam during WW II, and the same city current day, when a renowned Israeli writer on a promotional tour makes a startling discovery in a museum. Yoel Blum always knew he had been born in the Netherlands, but his mother Sonia and
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older sister Nettie were silent about the circumstances that led to their migration to Palestine. When he sees images of his family projected on the wall in a Jewish museum slide show, with his mother holding a little boy bearing no resemblance to Yoel’s own baby pictures, he confronts his sister, forcing her to reveal what his mother had kept hidden from him throughout her life. The novel is structured to send the reader of a winding path to discover what Yoel now knows. Seeking physical remnants of his childhood, he settles into an old Amsterdam hotel that looks out on a building where his family was living as the war began. As Yoel moves throughout the city, sensing and recreating the horrors of life during wartime, he writes his new novel and confronts his enormous failures as a "child of ice", one whose emotional growth was stunted by the circumstances of being hidden away with sympathetic strangers to avoid certain death at the hands of Nazis and local enablers. The dual journeys are equally and remarkably rendered, as the reader knows what doom awaits the Jews of Amsterdam, while Yoel's discoveries about his own family, in the city of canals and bicycles, unwind with shocking surprises. This is a stunning literary achievement, comparable to Sophie's Choice.

Quotes: "It's ridiculous to be a human being, a cluster of organs that wear out constantly."

"He wants her to alleviate the burden of the loneliness that has enshrouded him throughout his life like another layer of skin."

"Their language sounds to him like a jumble of mud and gravel."
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Original language


Physical description

336 p.; 8.25 inches


1982130237 / 9781982130237
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