Book Reviews

Passport Control – Gila Green

Passport Control Overflowing with drama, politics, personality, and angst, Gila Green’s Passport Control delivers on all these fronts.

It’s 1992. When twenty year old Miriam learns that she is no longer welcome to live in her father’s Ottawa home, she heads off to her parents’ native Israel to continue her studies at Haifa University. Hoping to find out more about her estranged family, Miriam ends up tangled in a web of old secrets, vengeance, and pain. Green does not give Miriam or her readers the satisfaction of a true coming of age tale. Instead, she offers us the richer, messier journey of a young woman whose search for greater understanding leads to a more honest confusion.

Green plants Miriam in the Israel of the Oslo peace process, a time and place that highlights her naivite and ignorance about “the real Israel”. Green expects her readers to catch up just as quickly. From the Haifa University dorms and dining room to Jerusalem’s Old City and a northern kibbutz, Green’s writing gets directly to the core of Israeli society. Green presents her characters and their setting in vivid detail, while still allowing her readers to make their own emotional connections to the time and places in Miriam’s story. Throughout Miriam’s experiences Green weaves a sophisticated commentary on the political and socio-economic divisions in Israel and Diaspora Jewry. This is a tremendous gift to readers who will understand all its subtleties. Book clubs will find an endless stream of discussion topics. Casual readers will appreciate Green’s ability to fit so much nuance in a tightly written narrative. Like Miriam, all will emerge with a greater empathy for those who need to live with a complicated past.

BooksAndBlintzes.com received a free copy of this book for the purposes of writing this review. For more information about Gila Green and her other work, please visit www.gilagreenwrites.com

 

 

Book Reviews

Unlocking Past – Shira Sebban

Unlocking the Past

Shira Sebban’s Unlocking the Past documents her mother’s experiences as a young woman living in the new State of Israel in the 1950s. Carefully drawing from her mother’s diary entries from this time, Sebban painstakingly pieces together a vibrant social history to provide a peek inside an individual story behind the larger international events.

Among the most striking elements of Sebban’s book are the photographs. Sebban includes both personal and archival photographs, and the juxtaposition of the two amplifies the inter-connectedness of the personal and national narratives. The Israel that Naomi inhabited was a country brimming with young people and potential. The country’s tiny geography adds to the intimacy of the setting and the relationships that Naomi experiences.

So what did a young, educated, and single woman do in Israel in the mid-1950s? Naomi’s life, according to her diary entries, was largely defined by her work as an economist, her connection to the Hebrew University, and an endless stream of movies, concerts, and small parties in people’s apartments or at cafes. It was a largely secular and urban life, with perhaps the only traditional element being the expectation that a young single woman must be looking for a husband. Sebban does not gloss over the military and security threats, but she addresses them apolitically, with direct reference to how they affected her mother’s day to day experiences. Readers who are hoping for a story of spiritual-awakening and efforts to make the desert bloom will be severely disappointed. Readers who wish to engage with the energy of young people eager to establish their roots in a new home will find abundant inspiration.

As Sebban has tried to stay true to her source material, the narrative sometimes feels choppy or distant. The excerpts she includes in the book make it clear that her mother was not given over to flowery prose in making her diary entries, and Sebban is faithful to the simplicity and sharpness of Naomi’s writing. It is to her credit that Sebban chooses not to try to speculate or fill in the blanks where her mother’s story is incomplete. Rather, she gives her readers a priceless gift – the hint of a personal narrative that makes us question and want to explore more fully the lives of those we hold most dear. We will never know the whole story, but we can try to find connections that will support out shared memories, and allow us to better understand ourselves.

BooksandBlintzes received a free copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review. The opinions and content of this review are solely those of the review’s author.

Book Reviews, Literature

Waking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

“Intense”. This is the word that kept coming up during my book club’s discussion of Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Readers described their visceral reactions to her characters, their actions, and her portrayal of Israeli society. No one needed any prompting to share these strong feelings either. In a group that rarely reaches a consensus, Waking Lions stood out for its ability to powerfully affect everyone who read it.

What made this such an intriguing book? The true force is Gundar-Goshen’s fearlessness as she portrayes Israel’s complexity, in all its geographic, socio-economic, racial, sexual, and violent tensions. Gundar-Goshen doesn’t have to create these elements – they exist in the country’s headlines and the lives of all Israelis. Her ability to capture these experiences in her characters’ personalities, motivations, and actions, demonstrates her keen insight into the struggle of this country and her people to survive.

Gundar-Goshen’s writing style mimics the opacity of her characters – the way she writes about them presents their discomfort with their own ideas and often the limitations they place on themselves about what they choose to understand. In keeping her characters so absolutely messy and human, some are harder for readers to connect with than others. There is no true protagonist in this book. Readers who like to cheer for a hero will almost certainly be frustrated. Readers who enjoy searching for the deeper meanings behind people’s actions – “why they do what they do” – will fully appreciate all of the narrative’s twists and turns.

While a basic understanding of Israeli immigration law and the current Eritrean refugee crisis, the Israeli medical system, the relationship between Israel and its Bedouin inhabitants, drugs and criminal activity and racial and gender conflicts may help readers acclimate to the plot, the book does include enough information to provide the necessary background. It will almost certainly challenge the readers’ perceptions and knowledge of the country. But those who read and understand will be ever richer for doing so.

 

Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries, Nissan ~ "B'tzeit Yisrael" בצאת ישראל

In the Sinai Again – Cornell Capa

Photographer Cornell Capa, born April 10, 1918, captures an image of the Israeli Defense Forces advancing in the Sinai desert during the 6 Day War. An Israel returning to the Sinai, towards Egypt – the same nation that rejoices in its Exodus in B’Tzeit Yisrael?

ISRAEL. 1967. Israeli Army columns advancing in the Sinai desert.