Modern-day Israel is one of those countries in which I can just about barely imagine living. Living one’s life surrounded by sworn enemies, and being condemned by much of the rest of the world for what sometimes seems to be an overzealous dedication to self-defense, has to have a huge psychological impact on Israeli citizens. I often wonder how they go about their daily lives under those conditions. Is terrorism constantly on their minds or do they learn to push aside the threat and get on with it?
Questions like these make me appreciate novels that offer a glimpse into that world, books that speak with authority and insight about what it is really like there. Joan Leegant’s Wherever You Go is one of the better books of this type I have read in 2011.
Wherever You Go is the story of how three very different American Jews, strangers all, converge in Israel only to have their lives forever changed by circumstances none could have foreseen. Yona Stern is there in hopes of reconciling with the sister who has not spoken to her for ten years but finds that Dana, by now a hardcore West Bank settlement zealot, wants nothing to do with her. Mark Greenglass, a respected Talmud scholar who initially returned to his religion as a means of escaping the addiction that was killing him, is back from a family visit to New York and wondering where his religious fervor has gone. And young college student, Aaron Binder, finds himself drawn to a radical fringe group and its charismatic leader after deciding to stay in Israel a while longer before returning to the U.S.
Leegant tells their individual stories in alternating chapters, building each character layer by layer until they seem very real to her readers. They have very different lives, and at first do not seem to have much in common until one realizes that the three of them have come to Israel seeking the same thing: a fresh start on the rest of their lives. Yona needs her sister’s forgiveness if she is to move on; Mark needs to reconcile his inner religious turmoil before he can do the same; and Aaron is desperately seeking an affirmation of his self-worth, something his overbearing father has long denied him.
Just about the point at which some readers might begin to wonder what Leegant intends for her characters, one of them will make the fatal decision that brings them together for the first time. It is a tragic choice, one made for all the wrong reasons, and it has the potential to ruin the futures of Yona, Mark, and Aaron.
Wherever You Go is a gut-wrenching look at how one brief moment can change lives forever. Three people: an unobservant Jew, a Jewish religious scholar in the process of losing his faith, and an unstable radical, come together in a collision authored by sheer chance. None of them will be the same.
Rated at: 4.5
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)