on January 14, 2015
I don't if I enjoyed this novel, but I don't think that's the point. I don't think this is a novel that's meant to be enjoyed. It's more that we as readers are there to bear witness to the tragedy of these characters' lives because this entire novel is populated by people who are lost or have been lost or are in the process of being lost all simultaneously. Lots of times I just wanted to slap the main character, Ora, for being so silly and other times I just wanted to cry with her because she's so unable to be the person that the novel requires her to be. I don't know. I'm not making that much sense, but I read the novel and I bore witness and I think that was the point.
It is not easy to write about this book. It is above all a book to be felt; it forces the reader to connect viscerally with the characters' innermost feelings, fears, hopes and guts. Although one could praise the structure, the narrative, or the prose of Grossman, this is a novel that does not appeal to your intellect to entice your love, hate, like or dislike of the characters. They are who they are. You just cannot ignore them, or their lives. You will feel, hurt, rejoice, ache, despair and hope with them. This is a book about life, as it can only be lived in Israel. Read it, you will not regret it.
The novel opens in 1967 with a lengthy prologue set in the isolation ward of a Tel Aviv hospital during the Six Day War. Three sick teenagers: the girl Ora, and the two boys Avram and Ilan, are terrified that Israel has already fallen to the Egyptians. They try to comfort each other: Ora is already falling in love with the artistic and romantic Avram; it seems possible that Ilan may not survive.
But forty years later, just as another war is beginning, we meet Ora again. She is the mother of two sons and is separated from her husband, Ilan. Her younger son, Ofer, has just finished his military service but has volunteered to serve for a further period during a major offensive. Ofer is taken to the base by the family's long-standing taxi driver, Sami, a Palestinian Israeli who is aware that Ofer will be waging war on his people. This early part of the novel is full of the contrasts between the lives and realities of the different occupants of Israel.
Ora decides that she will not return home. She does not want to be there if there is a knock on the door, and in her anxiety, magical thinking leads her to conclude that there cannot be bad news if it cannot be delivered. Ora decides instead to undertake the hiking trip that she and Ofer had planned and further decides that she will share the journey with Avram. Avram is now a haunted man, physically ill and emotionally detached but he is an important part of Ora's past. Just how important becomes clear as the story unfolds.
During the course of their hike through Israel, Ora and Avram revisit their lives including their tangled relationships with Ilan and each other. Their history and their memories become part of the present as they travel through their lives as well as through the land. Avram's past has anesthetised him and Ora's attempts to share Ofer's life with him need to break through the barriers he has erected around his feelings.
This is a long and at times convoluted story. The imagery - of the uncertainty of life, the injustices of occupation - and the monuments to fallen soldiers, haunt Avram and Ora's present as it has shaped their past. Lives shaped by a continuing battle for survival in every sense, especially for Avram. I found the novel easy to read, but difficult to warm to. Part of this was because of its length but I also found that I did not care for Ora and this impacted on my capacity to feel sympathetic towards her. And because Ora is so central to this story, I could not re-focus easily on the other elements which potentially interested me more. The story of Avram, for example, the challenges faced by Sami, the lives of Ofer, of his elder brother Adam and of Ilan - each of these elements was important but was subsumed into Ora's musings, actions and reactions. Ora's story was simultaneously not enough, and far too much.
`When had she learned these movements and these looks?'
on October 18, 2010
There are five main characters in David Grossman's new novel that accompany us along our physical journey through half of Israel. Grossman has captured the deep essence of parenthood, loyalty, friendship amongst siblings and friends. I was so engrossed by Ora, the narrator thatI felt her pain, despair and longing. To be a mother of two sons in Israel carries it's own weight. This book allows us to not only feel that weight, but to measure our own loyalties and ties against it. It captures the essence of Israel society today, it's glories and turmoils. Loved it.