Wednesday, March 09, 2011

To the End of the Land

Seldom has a book left me with such conflicting opinions of its quality as has David Grossman’s To the End of the Land.  The basic premise of the book is a relatively simple one: an Israeli woman whose son volunteers to take part in a major military operation decides to disappear until it is all over.  Ora, the young soldier’s mother, has convinced herself that if she cannot be found for a notification of his death, he will remain safe.  So, rather than going on the extended hike she had planned to take with her son, Ora makes the same walk with the boy’s father. 

At almost 600 pages, To the End of the Land is long enough for the reader to change his opinion of the book more than once, and that is exactly what happened to me.  First, I was almost undone by the set-up to the book’s main plot, some 120 pages or so during which not much seemed to be happening and I was finding it difficult to like, or even identify with, any of the book’s characters.  Second, came the heart of the book, during which Ora and Avram (the estranged father of her soldier son) walked for miles in isolated sections of northern Israel while Ora told Avram about the things he missed by never knowing his son.  These approximately 450 pages, as the two main characters chat about their past and the son they have in common, make for compelling reading.  Third, comes the book’s ending, one I found to be particularly unsatisfying considering the number of pages it took me to get there.

David Grossman
Grossman does such a superb job developing his characters that even the secondary ones come to life as the complicated relationships take shape.  The story centers on a love triangle that has lasted for decades after the chance hospital meeting of Ora and the two young men who fall in love with her there, Avram and Ilan.  Theirs is such a tangled relationship that Ora, although she marries Ilan, has sons by both men and it often seems that Ilan is more loyal to Avram than he is to her.  At this late stage in the relationship, Avram has had, by far, the toughest life of the three, and it is a joy to watch as Ora tenderly gives him new life during their long walk by feeding him just the right details and stories about the son he never knew.

This is not a perfect novel (as if there is such a thing) but I will remember it for a long time – not so much for its plotline, but because it gave me a feel for what it is like to live in a country where the threat of sudden death is always around.  It is the burden of Israel’s young people to protect their country from those so determined to destroy it, but the parents who must live with the terror of seeing their children march to war so regularly pay a high price of their own.  I come away from To the End of the Land with an increased respect for Israel and her people and a belief that this is an important novel.

Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading your response to the book which I too thought a "big" work, and one in which one could try-on the ambivalence of living in that difficult and controversial place.

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  2. Ted, I've spent a good bit of time looking over my shoulder in places like Algeria, but I never realized what it must be like to know that the only way to escape this kind of tension would be to leave your home country for good. "To the End of the Land" brought that feeling home for me.

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