Posts Tagged Israel

book review: A Remarkable Kindness


A Remarkable Kindness By Diana Bletter.
William Morrow| August 2015|394 pages |$14.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-238244-3

Rating: ***/5*

Four women develop a friendship in an Israeli coastal town in 2006. Their bond builds by their involvement in a burial circle as well as by supporting each other through various life choices. Lauren, a maternity nurse, moved from Boston to live with her Israeli husband. Emily, a recently-divorced friend of Lauren’s, decides to move to Israel for a change. Aviva moved to Israel for intelligence work and struggles with the loss of both her husband and son. Rachel, a recent college graduate from Wyoming, moved to Israel to pursue altruistic goals.

While there seems to be much promise, it’s rather disappointing at times. First, there’s not nearly enough about the burial circle work. The burial circle is a ritualistic ceremony to prepare bodies for burial. These women don’t particularly bond through that. If author Diana Bletter wanted that to be the focus she needed to delve further into every aspect about it and she didn’t. The women gathered occasionally for a burial circle and it didn’t add any emotional value. Second, these women don’t have particularly strong bonds or friendships. Instead they’re rather surfacy and they seem only friends because they live in the same small village. When a war erupts instead of becoming engulfed in the stress which combat entails, it seemed a blip among these women’s efforts to live happily. None of them are happy living in Israel and many make plans to move back to the states as soon as possible.

Author Diana Bletter is an American who moved to Israel and lives in a seaside town with her husband and children and is a member of a burial circle. She writes from her own experience and perhaps that’s why the novel disappointed me. I anticipated details about the burial circle and support for the title. I only kept reading because I searched for further connections which failed to emerge.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.


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2013 Summer Book Picks [part one]


The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu [Hogarth Books]

My favorite book of last year is available in paperback. The novel focuses on three young women in the Israeli army. They’re thrown into some truly adult and potentially dangerous situations. While they often think like hormonal, selfish, naïve teenagers at other times these women react with amazing strength, bravery and clarity. Boianjiu includes point of views from Egyptian army members, Palestinians and a Ukranian woman who seeks to emigrate to Israel. A veteran of the IDF, she writes with compassion, humor, modernity and a humanistic approach to the IDF and Israel’s issues with its border nations as well as the United States and the UK.

RATING: *****/5


The Collective by Done Lee [W.W. Norton paperback, 2013]

“Give up trying. The world doesn’t need another dilettante, and that’s all you’ve ever been.”

This was one of my favorite novels of 2012. While at Macalester college, Eric Cho forms a strong friendship with painter Jessica Tsai and novelist Joshua Yoon. Years later they reunite in Cambridge forming the Asian American Artists Collective [3 AC]. Don Lee masterfully creates characters, story lines and vivid descriptions with the most gorgeous prose. These characters compete with each other, become jealous of one another and support each other’s goals. Lee truly grasps the creative lifestyle–its ups and downs, its starving moments, its triumphant moments.

RATING: *****/5

GretaWells hc c

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer [ECCO, 2013]

“Why is it so impossible to be a woman? [sic] When has a woman ever been forgiven? Can you even imagine it? For I have seen the plane of being, and nowhere upon it is the woman tracing her life as she always dreamed of it. Always there are the boundaries, the rules, the questions—wouldn’t you prefer to be back home, little lady?—that break the spell of the living.”

This one’s about time-travel however Greta travels in an unusual, ingenious way. It’s engrossing as long as you can get past the issue that causes Greta to time travel—she’s being treated for her depression by electroshock therapy—“Of course this was how our minds had connected in that blue electric flash of madness, across the membrane of three worlds so we switched places, two Gretas and myself, and awoke to different lives.” My issue wasn’t with that but with Greer never mentioning her depression as she traveled from her present day of 1984 to 1918 to 1941. The present Greta just lost her twin brother Felix to AIDS and her longtime paramour left her. In each time period she’s missing a loved one and her life’s slightly different. Even her physical appearance is a bit different. Greer recreates each time period through wonderful description, interesting people and dialogue. It’s a fast-paced novel perfect for summer reading. In the end Greta much decide which time she’s happiest in and in which she wants to remain.

RATING: ***/5

crazy brave

Crazy Brave by Jo Harjo [W.W. Norton, 2012]

Poet and Native American Jo Harjo writes lyrically about her difficult childhood in the Midwest. Her stepfather was an abusive alcoholic; she faced extreme challenges as a Native American and pretty much raised two children on her own. While she recalls these horrific moments in her past she’s also hauntingly philosophical and forgiving. She writes: “In the end, we must each tend to our own gulf of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music. Our human tendency is to fill these holes with distractions like shopping and fast romance, or with drugs and alcohol.” She also intersperses her tribe’s beliefs but never in an overbearing manner. About having a spinal tap in her youth, she writes: “The spinal column carries personal essence back and forth between earth and sky. The spine is powerful and vulnerable. The procedure was excruciating.” She’s a powerful voice for women and minorities; a truly beautiful soul.

RATING: ****/5

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The Inbetween People: book review

inbetween people

The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy. Publisher: The Permanent Press (January 2012). Literary fiction. Hardcover. 176 pages. ISBN: 978-57962-311-1.

“It’s not about individual happiness, he said. It’s about the collective happiness of the community. You must remember that.
And with those words we became the inbetween people . . .”

This is a stunning novel. I needed to let it settle with me. It’s a challenge to adequately describe its beauty and potency. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.

Avi grew up on a Kibbutz with a British father and Israeli mother who deserted him when he was quite young. Saleem grew up as an outsider on his own ancestral land. After serving in the IDF, Saleem died. His young wife visits Avi in prison. She’s worried she’ll be forced to marry Saleem’s brother out of tradition. Something she cannot do. She urges Avi to consider gaining a British passport to leave Israel to marry her and start a new life.

First time novelist Emma McEvoy lived on a Kibbutz in Israel after university and before moving to Ireland with her family. As the story unfolds with dramatic flair, McEvoy effectively utilizes letters and flashbacks to highlight the misfortunes and bond between Avi and Saleem. Both men understand the reality of fighting over land. Fighting over religion and dogma. Both men know bigotry and hatred. Know deception, fate and tragedy. Exquisite prose haunts you and urges you think about the characters, the landscape, the country, its people and its troubled history.

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