Wednesday, December 28, 2011


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Wherever You Go, Joan Leegant, W W Norton & Company, 2010, 253 pp

I have always had a fascination with Israel and the whole history and idea that Jews should have their own country. Trying to understand the seemingly endless conflict in Israel by reading the news never fails to leave me hopelessly confused. I've gotten much better results reading novels.

Wherever You Go is set in contemporary Israel, mainly in Jerusalem. Joan Leegant has tackled two gigantic though related aspects of the conflict in her short and rather light novel. One is the relationship of American Jews to Israel and the other is the debate about Jewish terrorism versus political attempts to structure some form of peace between Israelis and Arabs.

Employing the device of three American characters who are in Jerusalem to work out personal issues is a thin disguise for Leegant's views which are clearly anti-extremist. The characters themselves are well drawn however.

Yona is an unfulfilled promiscuous young woman who seeks reconciliation with her estranged sister, a radical proponent of the Jewish state. In fact, the sister, raising her five children under extreme duress in a small Israeli town, is the most intriguing character in the novel.

Mark Greenglass, former drug addict in New York, son of a domineering businessman, turned to Orthodox Judaism but has doubts and conflicts about his teaching life in Jerusalem. Then there is Aaron, a failure at the age of 20, who comes to Israel for specious reasons and ends up in a terrorist cell.

It sounds overly dramatic and somewhat cliched but Leegant is skilled enough as a writer to draw the reader into these lives and tell a good story. She paints a clear picture of life in Jerusalem today.

So it was an interesting read; better than Leon Uris' Exodus as literature goes, not as exciting as Herman Wouk's The Hope in its dramatic arc. What I appreciated most was her attempt to put individual human faces on the conflicts. Leegant's novel is one of the few I have read to avoid the pitfall of ideology. In fact, in her own way, she exposes ideology as the potentially destructive role that it plays in human interaction whether on a personal or political level.

(Wherever You Go is available in paperback, hardcover and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your local indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)

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