The Teacher


by Michal Ben-Naftali

January 21, 2020 
novel | pb | 138 pgs.
5.5" x 8.5"



No one knew the story of Elsa Weiss. She was a respected English teacher at a Tel Aviv high school, but she remained aloof and never tried to befriend her students. No one ever encountered her outside of school hours. She was a riddle, and yet the students sensed that they were all she had. When Elsa killed herself by jumping off the roof of her apartment building, she remained as unknown as she had been during her life. Thirty years later, the narrator of the novel, one of her students, decides to solve the riddle of Elsa Weiss. Expertly dovetailing explosive historical material with flights of imagination, the novel explores the impact of survivor’s guilt and traces the footprints of a Holocaust survivor who did her utmost to leave no trace.

Ben-Naftali’s The Teacher takes us through a keenly crafted, fictional biography for Elsa—from childhood through adolescence, from the Holocaust to her personal aftermath—and brings us face to face with one woman’s struggle in light of one of history’s great atrocities.

Translated from the Hebrew by Daniella Zamir

About the Author:

Michal Ben-Naftali was born in Tel Aviv in 1963. A writer, translator, and editor, she has published collections of essays, a novella, a memoir, and a novel, as well as many articles on literature, philosophy, and art, in Israel and abroad. Her translations from French to Hebrew include works by Jacques Derrida, André Breton, Marina Tsvetaeva, Maurice Blanchot, Julia Kristeva, Esther Orner, and Annie Ernaux. She has received the Prime Minister's Prize (2007) and the Haaretz prize for Best Literary Essay of the Year (2008). Her novel, The Teacher, won the 2016 Sapir Prize.

About the Translator:

Daniella Zamir lives in Tel-Aviv, where she works as a literary translator. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in literature from Tel Aviv University and her master’s degree in creative writing from City University in London.


"a vivid, meticulously crafted look at trauma’s legacy"—Hephzibah Anderson, The Guardian

"A poignant memorial to someone whom no one remembers. . . . absorbing and well crafted."The New York Times

"This heartbreaking novel is highlighted by Ben-Naftali’s spare prose and insightful observations. The author seamlessly blends history and fiction to forge a riveting novel."Publishers Weekly

"a shattering portrayal of utter loneliness, guilt, and despair."New York Journal of Books

"Winner of the Sapir Prize, one of Israel's highest literary honors, Ben-Naftali's haunting tale portrays a vanished woman finally found. Translator Zamir provides a vivid translation."—Terry Hong, Booklist

"At the intriguing intersection of history with humanity lies Michal Ben-Naftali’s The Teacher, a powerful peek into the psychology of trauma and a great book club pick for those seeking a challenging, deep discussion."—Jessie Horness, Foreword Reviews

"History, memory, and speculation converge in Michal Ben-Naftali’s The Teacher. It’s at times reminiscent of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral in the way that the blurred boundaries between these genres is a feature rather than a bug. Ben-Naftali begins with the death of a beloved teacher, and gradually reveals the story of a life abounding with historical trauma and impossible ethical decisions."—Tobias Carroll, Words Without Borders