Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: To the End of the Land

First of all, I am horrible at writing book reviews. I babble on too much, and I give bad story summaries because I don't want to give anything away. Just thought you should know that before you continue. :)

My husband picked up a book for me at the library. It was on the "bestsellers" shelf so he read the back cover and decided that I might like it. And I did, although att times it was a challenge to read. To the End of the Land by David Grossman is a great book and very well-written. (It was translated from it's original Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.)

The story takes place in Israel and has a lot to do with the wars that have gone on there over the past 50 years. It was difficult to know what was going on because I don't know the recent history of Israel, WWII, the Arabs, and all the trouble that continues over there.

The book is written mostly from Ora's point of view. She and her two friends, Avram and Ilan (both boys), meet as sick children in a seemingly abandoned hospital during a war. The beginning is hard to read, not because it's graphic, although some of it is, but because of the way it's written, and I think its supposed to be confusing. Ora and Avram spend a lot of time talking to each other as they drift in and out of consciousness and I think it's supposed to feel dreamlike; you don't know how long they were out, if they are starting a new conversation or continuing an old one. But it's interesting.

There is a lot of conflict in the story, and not just war stuff, although there is some of that too. It's about three friends where they take themselves through many circumstances that are not of their choosing and some that are. The story takes place as Ora hikes with Avram through the Israeli countryside. Ora wants to tell Avram, whose been estranged from her and Ilan for years, about her life and her sons. I don't want to give too much away so my description has to be a little vague.

There are some things in the book that you should be aware of:
  1. war - It's messy. And Mr. Grossman can be quite descriptive. From the time they were in the hospital as children, from when Ilan tries to rescue Avram who's been taken as a POW,to Avram being tortured by the Egyptians.
  2. sex - And there is some descriptive stuff in the book about that too. Not gross, overly graphic stuff, but it's not something that I'm used to reading and it's definitely not something that I'd want my children (through their teens) to be reading. 
  3. language - There are some brief expletives when people are arguing, fighting the in a war. But there's not a lot of it.
To the End of the Land is beautifully written. It made me appreciate words again. It's been a while since I've read a book where the words really paint a picture, and I love a good sentence. One of the simple joys in life. For example:
Hours go by, slowly. As though they have been preserved in some distant cellar, in jars of pickled time.

Just love that sentence! Paints a great picture.

There were also some thoughts that Ora had that I really related to as a mother. Here she is talking about being nervous about having her second child as she loves her firstborn, Adam, so much:
"Sometimes I don't know whether I'll have enough love for him," she said. "Adam fills me up so much, I don't know how I'll have room in my heart for another child."
I've had those same thoughts when I was pregnant with our second son wondering if I would be able to love the second as much as the first. Loving your own children is a special gift from God. It's like your heart grows a new chamber for each child that you can fill with love - enough love for all of them in their own way.

And her son, Ofer, reminded me of my boys also:
    Ofer, when he was around three, used to come up to her and announce: "I want to tell you a story." She would say, "I'm listening," and then wait and wait while Ofer stared into some corner of the room for a long time. Then his face would take on a ceremonial look, he'd fill his lungs with air and say in a voice hoarse with excitement: "And then..."
    "And then what?" Avram asks after a moment.
    "You don't get it," she says, her peals of laughter rolling all the way to the valley.
    "Oh," he says awkwardly. "That's the whole story?"    "And then, and then...That's the main point in stories, isn't it?"
My boys tell stories like that, too. That's another reason that I appreciated this book, cause it's real life. I could relate to her as a mother, the doubts and fears you have. And it opened my eyes to how Israel is a real place. Not all the people are shop-keepers, or own restaurants. Ora is a physical therapist, which I thought was interesting because I thought most of the women were oppressed and were forced to stay home to cook and clean and manage children. But Ora is a Jew and so they don't have the same oppression that the Arabs are "known for." I had never really thought about that before. But some of the things they deal with daily was something that seemed so surreal to me: bombings, fear of riding on the bus, terrorist attacks, fears that their children might be killed on the way home from school. Really scary stuff. And it's still happening today. How real their fear is.

Anyway, I would recommend To the End of the Land as a leisurely read, keeping in mind the three things I mentioned earlier: war, sex and language. It is beautifully written and made me appreciate good writing and good sentences. It also made me want to know more about Israel's recent history and how that relates to me as Believer. Check it out.

No comments: