Promised Land: A Novel of Israel

Promised Land: A Novel of Israel

by Martin Fletcher


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"Martin Fletcher, who headed up NBC TV’s Tel Aviv News Bureau, knows his territory and it shows on every page. Promised Land is a great sweeping epic, reminiscent of Leon Uris’ Exodus; a moving story of triumph and tragedy, new love and historic hate, expertly told by a cast of unforgettable characters. Fletcher’s writing is superb and rises to the level of importance that this story demands and deserves. Historical novels don’t get much better than Promised Land." —Nelson DeMille, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Cuban Affair

Promised Land is the sweeping saga of two brothers and the woman they love, a devastating love triangle set against the tumultuous founding of Israel.

The story begins when fourteen-year-old Peter is sent west to America to escape the growing horror of Nazi Germany. But his younger brother Arie and their entire family are sent east to the death camps. Only Arie survives.

The brothers reunite in the nascent Jewish state, where Arie becomes a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel while Peter becomes a top Mossad agent heading some of Israel’s most vital espionage operations. One brother builds Israel, the other protects it.

But they also fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, a lonely Jewish refugee from Cairo. And over the next two decades, as their new homeland faces extraordinary obstacles that could destroy it, the brothers’ intrigues and jealousies threaten to tear their new lives apart.

Promised Land is at once the gripping tale of a struggling family and an epic about a struggling nation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250118820
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 163,573
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

MARTIN FLETCHER spent many years as the NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv, and has won numerous awards including the National Jewish Book Award, a Columbia University DuPont Award, several Overseas Press Club Awards, and five Emmys. Martin is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including The War Reporter, Jacob's Oath, and Walking Israel. He is currently based in Israel and New York.

Read an Excerpt




November 1937

All Peter wanted was a change of clothes. But Mama stuffed more and more trousers, sweaters, and shirts into his suitcase. A raincoat, ties, and belts. Her hands trembled. It was as if the more she gave him, the more of her went with him.

But Peter didn't want clothes. He wanted photographs, diaries, his favorite books. He didn't want more pants, he wanted memories, his father's wooden pipe carved like a lion's head: something to hold on to.

Whatever she put in, he pulled out. Mama started to weep, Pappi coaxed her away. Finally, Peter, almost as tall as his mother, embraced her. "Forgive me, Mama," he whispered, glancing over her shoulder at his little sisters on the steps. Renata and Ruth wiped tears from their eyes.

When the Quaker lady opened the car door for Peter, his brother Aren jumped inside and wouldn't get out. Aren's little hands gripped the seat as he cried, "Don't take the bag, take me instead. Take me with you."

The Quaker lady didn't know what to do. She was large, wore a black-and-white bonnet that covered her brow, and was not used to tantrums. But when her eyes met the father's, she tried to smile in sympathy.

How awful, to give up a child. But the way things were going, keeping him could be even worse. They were running out of time. The poor people.

They had decided to say good-bye at the house rather than risk a scene at the train station, but Aren wouldn't get out of the car.

"Me too," he cried. "I want to go with Peter. Why can't I go too?"

"You will, you will," his brother said, hugging him. "I promise, when I get to America I'll get all the papers and send money and you'll come too. Everyone will."

Tears streamed down Mama's face, and Pappi rubbed his eyes. The girls held each other.

* * *

In the end Mama and the girls said good-bye at the house and Pappi and Aren drove with Peter to the station in the big black car. In the backseat Pappi slipped off his silver watch and strapped it onto Peter's wrist. Even on the last hole the leather strap hung loose. "Wear it," Pappi said. "Be punctual wherever you go. Polish your shoes. Be polite and say please and thank you."

"Please and thank you," Peter said, but they couldn't smile. He added softly, "It's yours, I'll give it back one day." His father squeezed his hand.

Aren held the other so hard it hurt; still Peter didn't pull away.

"Why can't I come too?" Aren murmured, defeated.

The Quaker lady tried to explain, looking at their miserable faces in the mirror as she drove. "America won't let in many Jews, my dear, but we have special permission for a few children. We'll try to get you onto the next list. Don't worry. Everything will be all right."

"Of course," their father said. "Aren, you're next, and then when you're both in America it will be easier for the rest of us to get papers. Isn't that right, Frau ... I'm sorry, I didn't get your name?"

"Frau Bildner. Yes, that's right. You're thirteen, Peter?"

"Almost fourteen."

"You'll like the family we found for you. And, Aren, they will find someone to sponsor you too. Near Peter. How old are you?"

"Twelve and a half. Almost."

"Don't worry. Everything will be fine."

* * *

At the train station Aren tried to cling to his brother, while Peter cuffed Aren around the head and gave him two of the butter biscuits Mama had baked for his journey. Pappi and Frau Bildner watched the brothers hug. Her lips quivered and Pappi had to look away.

There were whistles and clouds of steam and people rushing with trolleys piled high with cases, and men in black leather coats with swastikas and guns scanning faces, examining papers while their dogs strained on leashes.

All along the train, guards pulled up the iron steps and slammed heavy doors as passengers waved from windows. Peter leaned out too as the engine lurched forward and picked up speed. In one hand he gripped the paper with the name of the person who would meet him in Hamburg and take him to the ship for America, with the other he waved to his father and Aren. He wanted to shout, "I love you," but was too embarrassed. "Good-bye," he called, the wind whipping his hair. "See you in America!"

Pappi tried to shout, "Go west, young man," but his voice caught. "We'll see you there, I promise."

With a long thin whistle and a screech of wheels the great metal machine rattled around the bend and Peter was gone, a trail of smoke rising behind him.

* * *

Everything about Wisconsin was large and strange, though the Wilsons tried hard, and so did Peter. They allowed the Jewish boy to keep a night-light. He didn't cry much, but Peter often dreamt of his family. Everything he did was to make them proud. He worked to learn English, do well in school, excel at sports.

Walking to the yellow school bus on snowy winter mornings, glancing often at his father's watch to be sure he wasn't late, he imagined hugging Mama at the Madison station, and seeing his father's delight when he gave Pappi back his lion's-head pipe. How he would enjoy their surprise when they saw his big new home with the lawn that went all the way down to the street. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson would give them lemonade, they would meet his new brothers, Chuck and Bud. They called him Pete. He would give Aren his comics, and he and Aren would share a room again. His father had promised: "We'll join you in America."

But they didn't.

For when Aren and his parents and sisters were finally put on a train, it did not go west, but east.




May 1949

Tamara threw back her head and shrieked into the wind, her bare feet over the side of the sailboat, racing water smacking her toes. Spray stung her cheeks, her long dark hair flew like a cape. Pascal, in shorts and shirt, pushed the rudder hard into the wind. She gripped the gunwale as the little boat spun and shot back toward the western bank of the Nile, toward the Pyramids and the Sphinx, into the setting sun.

Tamara studied Pascal with his back arched, straining to hold the rudder. His chest swelled, his biceps bulged, his feet were planted wide, every sinew fighting the wind. She tried not to look between his legs.

This is the last time, she thought, enjoy it while you can. She kicked at the water, as if to annoy her mother, who had warned her for eighteen years against the bilharzia virus that lived in the murky brown waters. She felt like kicking her mother, and her father.

Tomorrow they would leave Cairo for good. She would never see Pascal again. She glanced down at him, at his shorts, and quickly looked away. She felt herself flush. If only she could kiss him, just once. Should she do it, just slide over and kiss him? Here, right now on the boat. Free the sail, release the rudder, bob with the waves, do as he wanted, as she did too. Should they? Now? Here? In the clutch of the mighty river. What a memory! The sun would sink in minutes, night would quickly fall, they would be alone in the dark, drifting with the current, in each other's arms.

She squirmed at the thought and found herself leaning toward him. But did he want to kiss her too? There was only one way to find out. But no, she didn't dare. The wind dropped and they settled into a gentle glide toward the bank. Pascal's chauffeur, Suleiman, waited at the jetty, holding open the back door of the black Mercedes.

Instead of driving home, they strolled one last time beneath the sycamore trees that lined the Nile. Children played at the edge of the water, couples sat on benches, impatient for the dark. Lights twinkled across the dark water. Only when dusk enveloped them did Pascal take her hand. "This is it, then," he said with a heavy sigh.

"Don't say that."

"Will you write?"

"Yes, yes."

But could she? Could she send letters from Israel to Egypt? There would be no way to communicate. She would lose him. She would lose everything. She loved Cairo, her home, her friends, the fragrances of tamarind and jasmine, the roasting of shawarma and river fish, the music and drumming of the night. And especially Pascal. She knew it wasn't true love. They'd hardly touched. It was the tension of discovery, the fear of it too. The unknown, the forbidden. He was a year older, nineteen, a boy, really, but what a boy. Tamara squeezed his hand and looked around. Could she for once be brave? Be foolish? In the darkness of a tree she stopped and at last pulled Pascal to her. Why hadn't she before? His lips were warm and firm, he tasted of the pomegranate they had shared, she liked it. They kissed, searching, and then, with the craving of a first embrace, a kiss of desperation, their last, their only kiss. She felt him tremble.

How jealous her friends were when she had met Pascal in the open-air cinema. He was dazzling in his tight black shirt. Later they had all gone to Groppi's for pistachio cassata, where he had said, "This ice cream is sweet and creamy, just like you." Her friends had howled with laughter. Creamy! Stop! It hurts!

"We'll meet again. In Paris. Or I'll come to Jerusalem," he said, his heart beating against hers. "Nothing will change."

Oh yes it will, she thought, everything will change. Who would she be in six months, in a year? Who knew what would happen in her new home? But the uncertainty emboldened her too. Instead of words, she felt herself pressing against him, she felt his body responding in turn, felt him growing against her belly. Her skin quivered, she felt a thrill. Move away from him! But no, why? She'd probably never see him again. She pushed against him, feeling the shape of him, while he held her tighter. Only after moments passed and her senses were on fire did she pull back.

If only she could stay, even just one day more.

It was her father's fault, though she shouldn't blame him. He was a Zionist, rounded up with a thousand others. After ten months' detention, beaten and starved, he had emerged a sickly man.

He had only been freed from the camp on condition he left the country, and that was fine by him. Being a Jew in Egypt was hard enough before the war with Israel, but since then it had become unbearable. The Jews were all but annihilated in Europe, her father said, we can't wait like fools for the same to happen here.

No, she couldn't blame her father; there was no life here for a Jew, not since the Jews won the war and had a country next door.

* * *

Through the window's lace curtain Moïse watched as the Mercedes drew up. The one good thing about losing everything, he thought, was that his daughter wouldn't see that boy again. He should never have sent her to that Catholic school. They had turned her head with all that money, the car, the boat, the villas. His parents were Catholic bankers, loud and ostentatious, as far from his world of academia as a camel from the ocean. True, the Collège du Sacré-Coeur had given her a good education, and thank God she had just graduated, so she could go to Israel with her diploma. It would help her go to college there. But that boy ...

He suspected they had kissed, and God knows what else.

His wife took his hand. "Are they still in the car?" Rashil asked.


She felt his fingers ball into a fist, and she squeezed. "Stop it. Tomorrow we go to Israel. Thank God."




February 1950

The cold stung, the canvas was slick with sleet, it pricked Tamara's skin as she peered out of the tent. She had never seen her breath's vapor before, or the fluffy white stuff. "Ima," she hissed to her mother, "look, come quickly."

Shivering, drawing her coat tightly to her throat, Rachel, who had renounced her Arab name of Rashil, crawled over the sleeping forms to the opening of the crowded tent. "Aiee," said one, turning over. "Careful!" cried another. Rachel stared with surprise at the white earth, and stretched out her hand to receive the snowflakes, which melted in her hand. She brought the moisture to her lips, and grunted. "Elohim shmor aleynu," she muttered. "God protect us," her favorite new Hebrew phrase. Rachel turned and crawled back into the tent they shared with three other families. With a loud sigh she drew her blanket over her head.

"Sssshh," someone said.

Excited, Tamara pulled on both pairs of socks, slipped into her sandals and coat, gathered her long black hair beneath a headscarf, which she wrapped around her face, and emerged from the tent like an Eskimo from her igloo. Her feet crunched on the crisp earth and at first she didn't notice the cold. She stood still in the row of tents and let the drifting snow tickle her eyelashes and dust her head and shoulders, and felt a lightness in her heart. She smiled at her footprints, like animal tracks, thinking, My first snow. Who would have thought it, snow on the cactus. Everything is new and different.

At that moment, from between two tents at the end of the row, a group of men in hats and coats appeared, walking toward her, talking loudly. They paused briefly at a mess of canvas and ropes where two tents had collapsed in the wind, and continued. As they passed she said, "Boker tov."

"Good morning," the one in front responded. He pulled his hat over his eyes to keep out the snow.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "So early."

The same man answered. "We're looking to see how bad the conditions are here. It's freezing, the last time we had snow like this was in 1870. We may have to move you all somewhere else."

Keeping step with them, Tamara said, "I never saw snow before, not in Egypt."

"Well, it's crazy weather," the first man said, pulling his coat tighter at the throat. Tamara noticed his leather gloves and woolen scarf. She looked down: and his warm boots.

"The poor babies," Tamara said.

"Yes," he said, "people are dying, not in this camp yet, but in other places."

"There's nowhere to go," she said. "We've tried."

"That's the whole point. We have to build houses, and fast. It's even worse in the Arab refugee camps; there are more deaths there. Exposure. The cold. A roof collapsed from the weight of the snow."

The group passed another row of tents, pointing at heaps of frozen garbage, kicking at empty food crates, stamping their feet, cursing the cold.

"Is that where you're from, Egypt?" the man said. His gloved hands were deep in his pockets while Tamara blew on hers, enjoying the sight of her breath.

She looked up, emerald eyes and long black eyelashes, her face half-hidden by a scarf of black and gold.

"How old are you?" he asked.

"Nineteen. And you?"


"Where are you from?" she asked, taking him in now. He looked bulky beneath the heavy coat.

"What makes you think I'm from somewhere? I'm from here."

"Not with that accent. Anyway, your Hebrew is hardly better than mine."

He laughed. "Germany. But my Hebrew is much better than yours."

"Not for long. And your accent is terrible."

Another man grinned. "Arie," he said, "be careful of that one."

Snowflakes turned to raindrops as low leaden clouds blew in from the sea over the cliff at Sidna Ali, ten miles up the coast from Tel Aviv. Mist curled between clumps of eucalyptus trees and hugged the minaret of the ancient mosque, once the heart of a Bedouin encampment, now a transit camp for Jewish refugees from Arab lands. The men were swarthy and some wore knives in their waistbands, while the women were exotic and fair — certainly Tamara was in the eyes of Arie.

Rain pelted down now, drumming on the tents, a torrent rushed over the ridges of icy mud. As they fled to shelter in the metal hut that served as an administration office, Arie guided Tamara with his hand in the small of her back. A man blocked the doorway and barked in German, "Halt! She can't come in."

"Of course she can." Arie pushed his arm away. "It's pouring outside."

"So she must go back to her tent," the man said in Hebrew. "If she comes in they'll all want to and what a mess that would be."

Tamara froze at the open door, her cheeks red from the cold, and now also from humiliation: These yekke German Jews think they're so superior. Cold air blasted into the heated space that was sour with sweat. "Hurry up, shut the door," the man said.

She turned on her heel; they can keep their stinky room.

But Arie pulled her back by the hand and closed the door after her. "Who are you, anyway?" he said, pushing his chest toward the man. "You'd make this young girl go outside into the cold and rain? You're here to help them, you ..." He caught himself. "Move over," he said, and pressed himself into the cramped hut, still holding Tamara by the hand. "Here," he said to her, "it's nice by the stove."


Excerpted from "Promised Land"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Martin Fletcher.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Part One,
Peter and Aren,
Tamara and Arie,
Alias Veronique,
Peter and Alias Karla,
Tamara and Arie,
Arie and Tamara,
Ido and Arie,
Moshe and Arie,
Diana and Peter,
Family Time,
Peter and Arie,
Tamara and Arie,
Part Two,
Tamara and Diana, Peter and Arie,
Arie and Tamara,
Carmel and Arie,
Peter and Arie,
Tamara and Peter,
Tamara and Peter,
Rachel, Moshe, and Arie,
The Family,
Peter and Tamara,
Peter and Alice,
Peter and Arie,
Arie, Ido, and Alice,
Tamara and Moshe,
Ido and Alice,
Peter and Arie,
Peter, Arie, and Tamara,
The Family,
Also by Martin Fletcher,
About the Author,

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Promised Land: A Novel of Israel 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was interested in learning more about the early years of Israel’s existence. I came away with so much more of a feeling for the land and the people as well as a group of characters who leave you praying that the author will write the sequel that will bring a conclusion to the relationships that are now a part of the reader’s life as well. Given what will follow (the Yom Kippur war), I find myself wondering about the losses and blessings to come.......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bookaholique More than 1 year ago
Peter and Arie are brothers born in Germany. As the Nazis start to come to power, Peter is sent to America. Arie and the rest of the family remain behind. Peter thinks all of his family has been killed in a concentration camp, only to discover that Arie survived and is living in Israel. When he goes to Israel to reconnect with his brother, he also has a brief, intense relationship with Tamara. It is love at first sight. But Arie also falls in love with Tamara and eventually marries her. So begins a life long love triangle between Peter, Arie and Tamara. I loved how Mr. Fletcher wove the history of Israel in and out of this love story. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I got caught up in this story. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a dry, fact driven story on Israel's history. But it was not like that at all. I liked all three main characters for different reasons although at times Arie was the most difficult to connect with. This wasn't so much a page turner due to suspense, but because the story was so well written. My thanks to St. martin's Press and Netgalley.