Thursday, March 21, 2013

Obama's Trip to Jerusalem, Israel, & Grossman's To the End of the Land

From yesterday's New York Times article "Arriving in Israel, Obama Seeks to Offer Reassurance:"
It took four years and a second term, but President Obama traveled to Israel on Wednesday for a richly symbolic state visit, bearing a message of solidarity to a wary Israeli public and a promise to defend Israel from threats near and far. “Shalom,” Mr. Obama said after embracing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, who waited for him on a red carpet under the shadow of Air Force One at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. “I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations,” he said. At a news conference later, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu labored to project a unified front on issues that have often divided them, from how best to confront Iran’s nuclear program to how doggedly to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
For a novel about 21st century Israel, try To the End of the Land by David Grossman:
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer’s release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the “notifiers” who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days’ leave being offered by their commander—a chance act that sent Avram into Egpyt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy. Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, ford rivers, and cross valleys, avoiding all news from the front, she gives him the gift of Ofer, word by word; she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora and for the reader, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a “war and peace” rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the joys and anguish of raising children. Never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, and the burdens that fall on each generation anew.
It seems that Obama has also read the book.

UPDATE:  here's a review of To the End of the Land over at the Of Books and Reading blog.

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