Saturday, October 08, 2016

Israel: The People of Forever are Not Afraid, by Shani Boianjiu

I picked this book by my favourite method of wandering round the library shelves, looking for interesting titles with authors' names that sound foreign. Then if the blurb matches in interest, I borrow it. This one described the author as born in Jerusalem in 1987 (so, still in her mid twenties when the book was published in 2012)and living in Israel. She is the youngest ever recipient of the US National Book Foundation's 5 under 35 Award.

The author served in the Israeli Defence Force for two years. As the book makes clear, that is not unusual - in fact all young Israeli men and women are drafted for two years at the age of eighteen. The book follows three young women - Yael, Lea and Avishag - during their two years in the army, and to some extent, afterwards. Given the author's background, it might be thought that the book is thinly covered autobiography, however, since the three girls serve in different branches of the army, and have different personalities and different experiences, I suspect that there is a lot more imaginative skill that went into the story. I found all three fascinating, complex characters.

At the beginning they are all in school in a small village where the Lebanese border, where nearly everyone works "in a factory that makes parts that go in machines that help make machines that can make planes". The village, and the factory, have been built in the north near the border about thirty years previously. "There is one empty brown hill after another in that region, the government said, and if we are a country, we can't all live in just one part of it". So the girls grow up with missiles coming over the border, and with very little in the way of entertainment. Which may be why they grow up with such vivid imaginations.

The last two chapters felt a bit odd, as if the author did not quite know how to finish off the story. The second to last chapter sees the girls drafted back into the army, briefly, during a war with Lebanon. The final chapters goes back to when Yael was eighteen and waiting to enter the army, listening to her mother's story of her service in the air force as an air traffic controller, at the time when a hijacked plane was rescued from Entebbe in Uganda. It seemed to leave everything hanging in mid air, as far as the girls' lives went - but then, that is life which is never quite neatly wrapped up.

All in all, I found it an enthralling book, and I will be very interesting to see what the author comes up with as a follow up.

No comments: