To The End Of The Land, David Grossman, Alfred A Knopf, 2010, 576 pp
I've been wanting to read this book ever since it came out three years ago. I kept putting it off and finally formed the world's smallest possible reading group with one other person, a woman from one of my regular reading groups. We set a date to discuss it and encouraged each other along. I am so glad we did that.
Ruth is Jewish and has visited Israel twice. She is the mother of two grown sons, as am I. We met for lunch and talked about the book for three hours!
To The End Of The Land is about so many things. It is about an endearing but torturous love triangle. It is about motherhood in all its glory and suffering. It is about love and family in war-torn Israel. It is about lost causes. And much more.
Ora is the mother. The novel opens with a 43 page long prologue that I had to read three times before I grasped what was going on. In 1967 three very sick victims of an illness consisting primarily of high fevers, meet up. They are in hospital with only one nurse to care for them. War is raging nearby but these three quarantined teens are too delirious to understand what is going on. Ora falls in love with the other two, Ilan and Avram. Their destinies are forever entwined due to the alchemical crucible of fever, fear, sex, and love.
Eventually they recover and go back to their lives. Everything that happens thereafter is embedded in the eternal conflict that is the modern state of Israel.
Ora marries Ilan; Avram is captured and tortured by Egyptian soldiers. Ora has a son by Ilan and a son by Avram. The constant war and mandatory military service, the threat of death and all that stems from these factors are the only sure things in their lives. But for Ora, her sons, as well as her husband and her lover (who by the way are best friends and soul mates) are the central facts of existence.
It is hard to explain the emotional power of this novel. That a man could write so truthfully about a woman is one of those feats of literature; almost proof to me of our basic essence as spiritual beings who in any life take on the role of male or female. Ora is a wild and primal force as a mother, a lover, and a woman. But Ilan and Avram and the sons are no less than she.
Once again I have read the story of motherhood and its basic truth that no matter what, your children grow up and leave you. Though this has also been my experience, I have yet to come to terms with this paradox and neither does Ora. What mothers will do to maintain themselves as protectors of their children involves a level of sacrifice AND power transcending any amount of aggression and destruction that men can wreak on life.
The wonder of this particular story is how eloquently and thoroughly David Grossman has revealed all of the above. His book has the reputation of being a difficult read and I imagine that means different things to different readers. I found it difficult in terms of its length and its emotional impact but ultimately for me it became one of those books that I will never forget and that was an important step in understanding many questions I have had about life.
I want every mother I know to read it. I want the President, Secretary of State, and anyone else in our government who has to deal with the Israeli/Arab conflict to read it. I want all the leaders of the world to read it. I know that won't happen.
Just like the besotted and determined Ora, I will not stop hoping and talking and cajoling and pleading and living for a future that honestly only women can create. David Grossman must have an incredible mother because he clearly understands this.
(To The End Of The Land is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)