written by Sevgi Osman
The author Rivqa Rafael was introduced to me at an event about Jewish Australian Speculative Fiction and since then, I wanted to read some of her short stories. She mainly writes short speculative fiction about queer women, Jewish women, cyborg futures and hope in dystopias. I have looked into four of her short stories and quickly became a little obsessed with the stories and their plots. What caught my attention was how diverse and unique her storytelling was and because of that, I decided to take a closer look at them and report back some of my opinions.
The stories that I read were “Whom My Soul Loves”, “Love Thy Neighbour”, “The Day Girl” and “Two Somebodies Go Hunting”. When I first started reading her short story “Whom My Soul Loves”, I had to look up a lot of names and terms, since she uses Hebrew names like Osnat, Shmueli and refers to demons as dybbuk. Besides looking some stuff up, I got sucked into this story. A Jewish woman called Osnat is seen as a tzedeyke (a biblical figure or spiritual master) and has to do some sort of exorcism since a woman got possessed by a dybbuk, who in the end turns out to be an ibbur (a positive form of dybbuk). The ending also surprised me because I was expecting the exorcism to be over and done, but Rafael turned the story around, making Osnat seem like a lonely main character who fell in love with a girl named Dina, who only saw her as a friend. The dybbuk, or shall I say ibbur, turned out to be a lonely spirit that was in love with the person it possessed and quickly made Osnat realise that she could “relate” to the demon’s feelings. It is important to note how Rafael writes some of her dystopian stories and connects them to private matters that humans might go through or other social issues.
Furthermore, I noticed the pattern that Rivqa Rafael likes to change original stories up and turn them into a more interesting and fun read. This can be seen in “Love Thy Neighbour”, where she chose the biblical names Adam and Eve for her main characters but changed their original love story and created a love triangle with both of these lovers and a girl named Lilith*. Since Rafael writes about Jewish speculative fiction, there is no surprise how she uses the Hebrew term Elohim to refer to God. In her story, Elohim set Eve up to be with Adam and have his children, but Eve doesn’t get to have free will to be on her own or with anyone else. After she finds out that Adam has been sleeping with Lilith, she realises that he “loved her (Lilith) in a way that he could never love her.”. But shockingly, Eve ends up going to Lilith and also having an affair with her. In the end, they all go against God’s wishes and become lovers. This is what I meant by Rafael having very diverse and unique stories, she depicts the story from Adam and Eve from the bible and completely changes it up by making the characters queer, carefree and rebellious.
“The Day Girl” and “Two Somebodies Go Hunting” both have a similar structure and plot since they are set in a dystopian world. In the first-mentioned story, Genevieve, a queer woman, works at a meteorology job against her mother’s wishes because she wants to save humanity with Rubens’ medicine. She soon realises that Rubens is a fraud company, selling filler instead of medicine and poisoning other humans. After that, she flees and exposes the company, along with Camela, her lover and Henry, a friend of hers. In the second-mentioned story, Jeff and Lex go hunting, but this time it’s because their mother sends them to do so. They live in a place where there is no humanity left, only wildlife. To survive, they have to hunt animals and search for nutritious food. Jeff and Lex are siblings who seem to fight and disagree with each other often. As they lose the red kangaroo they wanted to catch, they get into a fight and as soon as they calm down, they find lots of big fish which will end up nurturing them after suffering in the overheated warm weather.
A noticeable pattern traces itself throughout Rafael’s short stories. They all have a conflict that is solved in the end. Rafael creates strong and remarkable characters in her stories that go through various transformations: discovering their sexuality, dealing with physical and mental health and family issues. Hebrew names and terms are often mentioned in these stories that mark them as what they are: Jewish Australian Speculative Fiction. I am looking forward to reading more of Rivqa Rafael’s work since they are fun to read and I can always expect that each story is very different from the other yet unique and with some common themes to tie them together.
*Editor’s Note: The editors are aware of the broader mythology of Lilith and would encourage our readers to delve into their own research if they are interested in learning more! In this case, the editors elected not to alter the author’s original words, as we feel they reflect Lilith’s own absence in much discourse.