Tag Archives: Israel

** Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa

Against the Loveless World starts in a stark solitary confinement cell and the prisoner, a young woman, unspools her life as the daughter of Palestinian refugees in Kuwait who needs to somehow support her family, is exiled again after the Iraqi-Kuwait role, and eventually lands her in Palestine in the middle of a terrorist cell. It’s a complicated life for a complicated heroine, which makes for an interesting narrative. The descriptions (of meals, landscapes) sometimes, bizarrely, sound like travel magazine fodder, but the travails of occupation are captured well.

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** Moving Kings by Joshua Cohen

Moving Kings stars the beleaguered owner of a moving company that handles eviction in addition to regular moves, and two Israeli veterans, working illegally for him as a family favor. I very much enjoyed the first part of the book, that describes the complicated relationship of the owner and his faithful assistant, the messy reality of running a small, scrappy company, and also the disorientation of the first veteran who tries to fit into a “normal” civilian life.

The second half is a heavier slog, comparing the evictions to the heavy-handed military presence in the Gaza strip. It’s not entirely convincing.

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* I Pity the Poor Immigrant by Zachary Lazar


I Pity the Poor Immigrant is a confusing story of a Jewish gangster and a dead Israeli poet, and the American journalist who investigates the murder and is drawn into the gangster’s life. Sadly neither strand drew my interest and the book-within-the-novel setup, the book written by the journalist, never gets anywhere, like the novel itself.

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** The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis


In a story written like a play, The Betrayers highlights the unlikely meeting of an Israeli politician who was once denounced, unjustly, to the KGB and sent to the gulag for years with his long-ago betrayer, now a down-on-his-luck denizen of Yalta with a sulky wife and a shoddy house. While I could not quite embrace the improbable circumstances of the meeting, I enjoyed the matter-of-fact tone of the descriptions of the complicated moral choices each character makes, with no one quite as guilty or innocent as he or she may appear at first glance. It feels like a Greek drama, but on the Black Sea.

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* Suddenly, Love by Aharon Appelfeld


Suddenly, Love stars an aging, lonely man and a young(ish) woman he hires to take care of him and his house. He is smart and well read and she is devoted and uneducated.

I suppose it should have read as a lovely and unlikely May-December romance. I read it as run of the mill exploitation of younger women as personal servants. Call me a feminist.

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*** My Promised Land by Ari Shavit


My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is written by an Israeli journalist who sees his country as besieged and besieger, with both aspects rooted in history and leading to his inexorable conclusion that the two-state solution often touted as the only one is just dead wrong. Instead, a single state with equal protection for both Jews and Palestinians is required. The author mixes history and personal stories to great effect to make his point. Highly recommended.

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* Mossad by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Michal

If you like spy novels, why not read the real thing? Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service devotes a chapter to each of 20+ operations of the Israeli intelligence agency, some flawlessly executed and a few not so much. Bodies pile up, including collateral-damage bodies, as do violations of other states’ sovereignty, but that never seems to bother the authors. It bothered me — plus, I have not liked spy novels since I got weaned off the Bibliotheque Verte of my childhood.

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** Great House by Nicole Krauss

Great House is a novel but is built like a collection of short stories, all connected by an immense desk that has travelled a lot through a troubled 20th century. The impressionistic stories make it difficult to discern the overall plot — which is probably the point  but is lost on me, of course!  All of the stories have isolated brilliant insights: the husband who feels he gets less attention than the potted plant, the tough teenager who sobs at his grandmother’s funeral, the soldier who walks away from his dying comrade, and one story I found truly gripping, the one of the father who simply cannot seem to forge a close bond with his son but keeps trying. That one would be three stars, or more.

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The Scar of David by Susan Abulhawa

In the last post I complained about books that are only good for a while — but, sadly, there are books that are bad all the way through. The Scar of David tells a meticulously arranged story of a Palestinian family that loses its home near Haifa when Israel is first established and seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time in the subsequent wars. While no historical event is missed no cliche is spared either. Here are two samples from page 23, about a mother-in-lay welcoming her Bedouin daughter in law: “She instructed her in the secretes to regain the body’s firmness and tricks to keep the interest of her husband after childbirth” and “Se was giddy, excited to have a female heir to her empire of enchanted herbs.” Yikes.

I’m not sure why I read to the very end. Save yourself the trouble: all the bad stuff you think may happen does, indeed.

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The Pale of Settlement by Margot Singer

The Pale of Settlement is a set of related story about the daughter of Israeli immigrants to New York, her travels back to Israel, and her family. Susan is a rather inane young woman who is not too sure about where she belongs, whom to love, or how to live — which makes for pretty boring stories. Except one, Hazor, which is not about Susan but about her mother and her days as a confused young woman, revealed obliquely through a long-forgotten diary. Maybe read just that one?

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