In this stunning, bestselling novel—and an NBCC Award finalist—David Grossman tells the powerful story of a mother’s love for her son. Just before his release from service in the Israeli army, Ora’s son Ofer is sent back to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, so that no bad news can reach her, Ora sets out on an epic hike in the Galilee. She is joined by an unlikely companion—Avram, a former friend and lover with a troubled past—and as they sleep out in the hills, Ora begins to conjure her son. Ofer’s story, as told by Ora, becomes a surprising balm both for her and for Avram—and a mother’s haunting meditation on war and family.
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
About the Author
David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children's literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into more than forty languages. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome's Premio per la Pace e l'Azione Umanitaria, the Premio Ischia—international award for journalism, Israel's Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation.
Read an Excerpt
HEY, GIRL, quiet!
Who is that?
Be quiet! You woke everyone up!
But I was holding her
On the rock, we were sitting together
What rock are you talking about? Let us sleep
Then she just fell
All this shouting and singing
But I was asleep
And you were shouting!
She just let go of my hand and fell
Stop it, go to sleep
Turn on a light
Are you crazy? They’ll kill us if we do that
I was singing?
Singing, shouting, everything. Now be quiet
What was I singing?
What were you singing?!
In my sleep, what was I singing?
I’m supposed to know what you were singing? A bunch of shouts.
That’s what you were singing. What was I singing, she wants to know . . .
You don’t remember the song?
Look, are you nuts? I’m barely alive
But who are you?
You’re in isolation, too?
Gotta get back
Don’t go . . . Did you leave? Wait, hello . . . Gone . . . But what was I singing?
AND the next night he woke her up again, angry at her again for singing at the top of her lungs and waking up the whole hospital, and she begged him to try to remember if it was the same song from the night before. She was desperate to know, because of her dream, which kept getting dreamed almost every night during those years. An utterly white dream. Everything in it was white, the streets and the houses and the trees and the cats and dogs and the rock at the edge of the cliff. And Ada, her redheaded friend, was also entirely white, without a drop of blood in her face or body. Without a drop of color in her hair. But he couldn’t remember which song it was this time, either. His whole body was shuddering, and she shuddered back at him from her bed. We’re like a pair of castanets, he said, and to her surprise, she burst out with bright laughter that tickled him inside. He had used up all his strength on the journey from his room to hers, thirty-five steps, resting after each one, holding on to walls, doorframes, empty food carts. Now he flopped onto the sticky linoleum floor in her doorway. For several minutes they both breathed heavily. He wanted to make her laugh again but he could no longer speak, and then he must have fallen asleep, until her voice woke him.
Tell me something
What? Who is it?
You . . .
Tell me, am I alone in this room?
How should I know?
Are you, like, shivering?
How high is yours?
It was forty this evening
Mine was forty point three. When do you die?
No, no, you still have time
Don’t go, I’m scared
Do you hear?
How quiet it is suddenly?
Were there booms before?
I keep sleeping, and all of a sudden it’s nighttime again
’Cause there’s a blackout
I think they’re winning
They’ve occupied Tel Aviv
What are you . . . who told you that?
I don’t know. Maybe I heard it
You dreamed it
No, they said it here, someone, before, I heard voices
It’s from the fever. Nightmares. I have them, too
My dream . . . I was with my friend
Maybe you know
Which direction I came from
I don’t know anything here
How long for you?
Me, four days. Maybe a week
Wait, where’s the nurse?
At night she’s in Internal A. She’s an Arab
How do you know?
You can hear it when she talks
My mouth, my whole face
But . . . where is everybody?
They’re not taking us to the bomb shelter
So we don’t infect them
Wait, so it’s just us—
And the nurse
If you could sing it for me
If it was the other way around, I would sing to you
Gotta get back
Where, where, to lie with my forefathers, to bring me down with sorrow to the grave, that’s where
What? What was that? Wait, do I know you? Hey, come back
AND the next night, too, before midnight, he came to stand in her doorway and scolded her again and complained that she was singing in her sleep, waking him and the whole world, and she smiled to herself and asked if his room was really that far, and that was when he realized, from her voice, that she wasn’t where she had been the night before and the night before that.
Because now I’m sitting, she explained. He asked cautiously, But why are you sitting? Because I couldn’t sleep, she said. And I wasn’t singing. I was sitting here quietly waiting for you.
They both thought it was getting even darker. A new wave of heat, which may have had nothing to do with her illness, climbed up from Ora’s toes and sparked red spots on her neck and face. It’s a good thing it’s dark, she thought, and held her loose pajama collar up to her neck. Finally, from the doorway, he cleared his throat softly and said, Well, I have to get back. But why? she asked. He said he urgently had to tar and feather himself. She didn’t get it, but then she got it and laughed deeply. Come on, dummy, enough with your act, I put a chair out for you next to me.
He felt along the doorway, metal cabinets, and beds, until he stopped way off, leaned his arms on an empty bed, and panted loudly. I’m here, he groaned. Come closer to me, she said. Wait, let me catch my breath. The darkness filled her with courage and she said in a loud voice, in her voice of health, of beaches and paddleball and swimming out to the rafts on Quiet Beach, What are you afraid of? I don’t bite. He mumbled, Okay, okay, I get it, I’m barely alive. His grumbling tone and the heavy way he dragged his feet touched her. We’re kind of like an elderly couple, she thought.
One of these beds just decided to . . . Fuck! So, have you heard of the Law of Malicious—
What did you say?
The Law of Malicious Furniture—heard of it?
Are you coming or not?
The trembling wouldn’t stop, and sometimes it turned into long shivers, and when they talked their speech was choppy, and they often had to wait for a pause in the trembling, a brief calming of the face and mouth muscles, and then they would quickly spit out the words in high, tense voices, and the stammering crushed the sentences in their mouths. How-old-are-you? Six-teen-and-you? And-a-quar-ter. I-have-jaun-dice, how-a-bout-you? Me? he said. I-think-it’s-an-in-fec-tion-of-the-o-va-ries.
Silence. He shuddered and breathed heavily. By-the-way-that-was-a-joke, he said. Not funny, she said. He groaned: I tried to make her laugh, but her sense of humor is too— She perked up and asked who he was talking to. He replied, To my joke writer, I guess I’ll have to fire him. If you don’t come over here and sit down right now, I’ll start singing, she threatened. He shivered and laughed. His laughter was as screechy as a donkey’s bray, a self-sustaining laughter, and she secretly gulped it down like medicine, like a prize.
He laughed so hard at her stupid little joke that she barely resisted telling him that lately she wasn’t good at making people roll around with laughter the way she used to. “When it comes to humor, she’s not much of a jester,” they sang about her at the Purim party this year. And it wasn’t just a minor shortcoming. For her it was crippling, a new defect that could grow bigger and more complicated. And she sensed that it was somehow related to some other qualities that were vanishing in recent years. Intuition, for example. How could a trait like that disappear so abruptly? Or the knack for saying the right thing at the right time. She had had it once, and now it was gone. Or even just wittiness. She used to be really sharp. The sparks just flew out of her. (Although, she consoled herself, it was a Purim song, and maybe they just couldn’t come up with a better rhyme for “Esther.”) Or her sense of love, she thought. Maybe that was part of her deterioration—her losing the capacity to really love someone, to burn with love, like the girls talked about, like in the movies. She felt a pang for Asher Feinblatt, her friend who went to the military boarding school, who was now a soldier, who had told her on the steps between Pevsner Street and Yosef Street that she was his soul mate, but who hadn’t touched her that time, either. Never once in two years had he put a hand or a finger on her, and maybe that never-touched-her also had something to do with it, and deep in her heart she felt that everything was somehow connected, and that things would grow clearer all the time, and she would keep discovering more little pieces of whatever awaited her.
For a moment she could see herself at fifty, tall and thin and withered, a scentless flower taking long, quick steps, her head bowed, a wide-brimmed straw hat hiding her face. The boy with the donkey laugh kept feeling his way toward her, getting closer and then farther away—it was as if he were doing it on purpose, she realized, like this was a kind of game for him—and he giggled and made fun of his own clumsiness and floated around the room in circles, and every so often he asked her to say something so he’d know which direction she was in: Like a lighthouse, he explained, but with sound. Smart-ass, she thought. He finally reached her bed and felt around and found the chair she had put out, and collapsed on it and breathed heavily like an old man. She could smell the sweat of his illness, and she pulled off one of her blankets and gave it to him and he wrapped it around himself and said nothing. They were both exhausted, and each of them shivered and moaned.
Still, she said later from under her blanket, your voice sounds familiar. Where are you from? Jerusalem, he said. I’m from Haifa, she said, accentuating slightly. They brought me here in an ambulance from Rambam Hospital, because of the complications. I have those too, he laughed, my whole life is complications. They sat quietly. He scratched his stomach and chest and grumbled, and she grumbled, too. That’s the worse thing about it, isn’t it? she said. She also scratched herself, with all ten fingernails. Sometimes I’m dying to peel all my skin off, just to make it stop. Every time she started talking, he could hear the soft sticky sound of her lips parting, and the tips of his fingers and toes throbbed.
Ora said, The ambulance driver said that at a time like this they need the ambulances for more important things.
Have you noticed that everyone here is angry at us? As if we purposely. . .
Because we’re the last ones left from the plague.
They sent home anyone who was feeling even a little bit better. Especially soldiers. Wham-bam, they kicked them right back to the army so they could make it in time for the war.
So there’s really going to be a war?
Are you kidding? There’s been a war for at least two days.
When did it start? she asked in a whisper.
Day before yesterday, I think. And I told you that already, yesterday or the day before, I can’t remember, the days get mixed up.
That’s right, you did say . . . Ora was dumbstruck. Clots of strange and terrifying dreams drifted through her.
How could you not hear? he murmured. There are sirens and artillery all the time, and I heard helicopters landing. There are probably a million casualties by now.
But what’s going on?
I don’t know, and there’s no one to talk to here. They have no patience for us.
Then who’s taking care of us?
Right now there’s just that thin little Arab woman, the one who cries. Have you heard her?
That’s a person crying? Ora was stunned. I thought it was an animal wailing. Are you sure?
It’s a person, for sure.
But how come I haven’t seen her?
She kind of comes and goes. She does the tests and leaves your medicine and food on a tray. It’s just her now, day and night. He sucked in his cheeks and said thoughtfully, It’s funny that the only person they left us with is an Arab, isn’t it? They probably don’t let Arabs treat the wounded.
But why does she cry? What happened to her?
How should I know?
Ora sat up straight and her body hardened, and she said coldly, quietly, They’ve occupied Tel Aviv, I’m telling you. Nasser and Hussein are already sipping coffee at a café on Dizengoff Street.
Where did you come up with that? He sounded frightened.
I heard it last night, or today, I’m almost positive, maybe it was on her radio, I heard it, they’ve occupied Beersheba and Ashkelon and Tel Aviv.
No, no, that can’t be. Maybe it’s the fever, it’s because of your fever, ’cause there’s no way! You’re crazy, there’s no way they’ll win.
There is, there is, she mumbled to herself, and thought, What do you even know about what could or couldn’t happen.
What People are Saying About This
“A masterpiece. . . . One of the few novels that feel as though they have made a difference to the world.”
—Colm Tóibín, The New York Times Book Review
“A boundary-pushing novel. . . . Like all great literature, it is an act of generosity, opening itself to every human possibility. . . . Grossman invites us to look beneath the shrill headlines, beyond the roadblocks, within the clenched fist—to see Israel’s predicament not as ‘the situation’ but as many situations, one for every person.”
—The Washington Post
“Enthralling. . . . Unsparing yet compassionate . . . Grossman’s electrifying narrative seems excruciatingly timely. . . . Unforgettable. . . . The unstudied beauty and psychological complexity of Grossman’s language, his deft and lively dialogue, are utterly compelling. . . . Rendered in Jessica Cohen’s exquisite translation, Grossman’s symphonic novel straddles despair and hope, a journey into inner and outer landscapes, delivering stunning rewards.”
—The Miami Herald
“Magnificent. . . . A powerful meditation. . . . Foremost among Grossman’s achievements is the creation of Ora, a modern-day Scheherazade and icon of the mourning mother.”
—The Seattle Times
“Grossman’s greatest fictional creation [is] Ora: tender, passionate, angry, funny, self-doubting, intuitive, above all a woman of ‘abundance.’ . . . [Her story] encompasses both the complex fullness of one life and the broader history of Israel’s modern conflicts. . . . This most Israeli of Grossman’s novels is also his most universal.”
—George Packer, The New Yorker
“A tour de force. . . . Unforgettable. . . . [Grossman’s] best.”
“Penetrating. . . . Grossman has produced a sprawling novel that stretches over nearly 35 years of Israeli history. Along with war and peace, life and death, Grossman reckons with the emotional and sexual geometry of Israelis, particularly the secular liberals now in middle age, much like their author.”
“This is a story of love and friendship, family and society, parents and children, life and death. And war and peace. . . . Whether lushly descriptive, emotive or narrative, Grossman’s writing is both controlled and passionate. . . . Ora’s voice is authentic and true, honed to perfection.”
—Chicago Jewish Star
“Profound. . . . A reminder of what Israel—what any country—is capable of doing to its sons.”
—The Boston Globe
“There are some writers in whose words one recognizes the texture of life. David Grossman is such a writer. He is a master of the emotionally accurate and significant. His characters don’t so much lie on the page as rise before the reader’s eyes, in three dimensions, their skin covered in prose that both stabs with insight and shines with compassion.”
—Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi
“Moving. . . . A convincing portrait of maternal grit and ingenuity in a time and place of relentless challenge. . . . In this powerful book, there are surprising answers of a kind, but the ongoing strife goes on.”
—The Washington Times
“Very rarely you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling has opened in you that was not there before. David Grossman has the ability to look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity; his novels are about what it means to defend this essence against a world designed to extinguish it. To the End of the Land is his most powerful, unflinching story of this defense.”
—Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love
“A courageous and powerful antiwar novel.”
—Kansas City Star
“Grossman’s most ambitious work to date. . . . His imagination is secular, worldly, self-questioning and ironic. The Israel he imagines, beautifully and sorrowfully, is not going to be saved by any divine intervention.”
“Bold and uncompromising, this great emotional rush of a story sings and cries, exults and mourns.”
“An extraordinary epic of love, war, and sorrow. . . . Stunning—brilliantly written and beautifully constructed.”
—The Times (London)
“A deeply serious, utterly honest work about the state of Israel.”
“Flaubert created his Emma, Tolstoy made his Anna, and now we have Grossman’s Ora—as fully alive, as fully embodied, as any character in recent fiction. I devoured this long novel in a feverish trance.”
—Paul Auster, author of Invisible
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of To the End of the Land, David Grossman’s powerful, deeply moving novel about life during endless wartime.
1. What one word would you use to describe the central theme of this novel? Is it a political novel?
2. In an interview, Grossman said about grief, “The first feeling you have is one of exile. You are being exiled from everything you know.” How do both grief and exile figure into this story?
3. Throughout the novel is the notion of tapestry, of threads being woven. What does that tapestry signify?
4. What do you think was Grossman’s intent with the prologue? What did this opening lead you to expect from the rest of the novel? Was it significant to you as a reader, later in the story, to have known these characters as teenagers?
5. On page 22, Ora says, “I’m no good at saving people.” Why does she say this? Is it true?
6. What function does Sami serve in the novel? What do we learn about Ora through her interactions with him?
7. Why does Ora consider Ofer’s reenlistment to be a betrayal? Why do his whispered, on-camera instructions affect her so strongly?
8. Discuss Adam’s assertion that Ora is “an unnatural mother” (page 109). What do you think he means by that? What does Ora take it to mean?
9. On page 149, Ora tells Sami to drive “to where the country ends.” His reply: “For me it ended a long time ago.” What does he mean by that? How does this change your interpretation of the novel’s title?
10. What is the significance of Ofer’s film, in which there are no physical beings, only their shadows?
11. In both Adam and Ofer, the influence of nature vs. nurture seems quite fluid. How is each like his biological father, and how does each resemble the man to whom he is not related by blood?
12. What role does food play in the novel? What does vegetarianism, especially, signify?
13. On pages 319-320, Ora says to Avram, “Just remember that sometimes bad news is actually good news that you didn’t understand. Remember that what might have been bad news can turn into good news over time, perhaps the best news you need.” What is she hoping for here? Does her advice turn out to be accurate?
14. Why does Ora refuse to go back for her notebook? As a reader, could you identify with Ora’s actions? What about elsewhere in the novel?
15. What do we learn about Ora, Ilan, and Ofer through the story of Adam’s compulsive behavior? What is “the force of no” (page 450)?
16. Discuss the significance of whose name Ora draws from the hat. Did she choose that person intentionally? How might the lives of Ora, Ilan, and Avram have been different if the other name were drawn?
17. Why does Ora react so strongly to what happened with Ofer in Hebron? How does it relate to what happened to Avram as a POW? Why does her reaction lead to the implosion of her family?
18. When Ora says to Avram, “Maybe you’ll even have a girl” (page 647), what is she really saying?
19. Discuss the final scene of the novel. What does Avram’s vision signify? Was Ora’s motivation for the hike wrong, as she fears?
20. How did Grossman’s personal note at the end change your experience of the novel? What seems possible for Ora and Avram, and the other characters in the book, at the end of the story?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ora is having a mid-life crisis. Her husband has left her and her oldest son has called her an "unnatural mother" and her youngest son has chosen to return to military duty. She runs away from it all. She leaves her home to hike the Galilee. With her she takes an old family friend and former lover, Avram, who is traumatized from his time as a POW to the Egyptians where he was tortured. His once brilliant mind is no more. Other important characters are Ora's estranged husband Ilan, with whom she had a child named Adam. Ora and Ilan and Avram were childhood friends. There is clever and witty dialogue that makes us smile, even in the midst of tragedy. There is a peek into what life is like in modern-day Israel, the strife and tension, suspicion and hatred. Cleverly done!
It's difficult for me to write this review because I'm not sure how to write it in a way that will convey the profound and moving experience that is Grossman's novel. It is sprawling; a thoughtful, heartrending and tragically personal rendering of lives torn apart by war.This is not a fast-paced, plot-driven novel. Reading it is like taking a very slow drive through the country, where the goal is not the destination but the absorption of your surroundings. There is a great deal of stream-of- consciousness writing that moves between present-day hike, the youth of Ora, Ilan and Avram, and the family years of Ora and Ilan.Overarching all the characters' lives is the shadow of war and conflict. Ora is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, the wife of a former soldier, and the mother of a son who is going into conflict. Ora decides to hike the Galilee, a hike that she had planned to do with her son, in a spurt of magical thinking: if she's not home to receive the news that her son has died in battle, then he can't die. She takes along Avram, her former lover, who has his own battle scars. Her past and present are marred by war. In one touchingly sad scene Ora recalls a day on which she compulsively rode the bus back and forth, every day for weeks, apparently both in spite of and because of the likelihood of falling victim to a terrorist attack. She describes walking through the city and looking at everyone as though they could be a suicide bomber, then realizing they are looking at her the same way. It is impossible for the reader not to imagine themselves and their loved ones in such a city, where violence never sleeps.Grossman also explores the complex relationship between the opposing sides of a conflict. Ora's driver is Sami, an Arab, and she is both saddened and infuriated by the distance that the current conflict imposes in their relationship. During a particularly graphic reminiscence of a war scene, one of the characters recalls the moment when he realizes that the "enemies" are humans just like him, in a different uniform. Over and over the age-old question is raised: why must we fight like this, and when does it stop?This novel resonated with me because I've been through a loved one's deployment. Ora's feelings and actions, her determination to keep talking about Ofer in order to keep him alive, seem like nonsense at times, but in the crazymaking atmosphere of living constantly with a loved one being in harm's way, they make perfect sense. Sadly, the author has lived the truth about which he writes: his own son was killed in conflict in Lebanon.This was a profound, deep, moving novel to read. It has stood out among the best books I've read this year, and it has lingered with me long after I finished it. Very highly recommended.
I could use a million words to describe this book: brilliant, exhausting, compelling, tedious, moving, confusing, tender, unforgettable, and still not know where to start.It is the story of one woman, Ora, and how she spends her days after her son, Ofer, goes into the Israeli Army. She brings an old friend, Avram, on a journey that Ofer was supposed to have taken with her, and Ora and Avram talk about everything from their own friendship to Ora's marriage to Ofer, and much more.For the most part I loved this book, because Grossman's language is like a stream, moving along, keeping you with him through both beautiful and dark times. It is one of the rare works of fiction I've read that really provides an opportunity to see what war does to the human soul - not the person in battle, but everyone else.This is not easy reading, but at the same time I found myself immersed in the characters' lives and thought about them at length when I was away from the book.
Gorgeous writing, seriously serious. I did get a little sick of Ora by the end, however.
This amazing novel embraces two, no, three difficult themes: life in Israel confronted by the constant threat of the painful Middle East Conflict, a family's painful efforts at survival facing that threat, and a love story - not just of a man and a woman, but of parents and children and close friendships. The writing is intense, sometimes poetic, broad, all encompassing. To the End of the Land is a major accomplishment.
The hard parts of this book were the beginning and end - I felt like the story took a while to develop and I thought the ending was tough to follow. However the majority of the book was a great read. The character development of Ora and her relationship with Avram made for an excellent story. As well, I was sucked into the development and well being of O'fer, her son off to serve in the army.
Seldom has a book left me with such conflicting opinions of its quality as has David Grossman's "To the End of the Land." The basic premise of the book is a relatively simple one: an Israeli woman whose son volunteers to take part in a major military operation decides to disappear until it is all over. Ora, the young soldier's mother, has convinced herself that if she cannot be found for a notification of his death, he will remain safe. So, rather than going on the extended hike she had planned to take with her son, Ora makes the same walk with the boy's father. At almost 600 pages, "To the End of the Land" is long enough for the reader to change his opinion of the book more than once, and that is exactly what happened to me. First, I was almost undone by the set-up to the book's main plot, some 120 pages or so during which not much seemed to be happening and I was finding it difficult to like, or even identify with, any of the book's characters. Second, came the heart of the book, during which Ora and Avram (the estranged father of her soldier son) walked for miles in isolated sections of northern Israel while Ora told Avram about the things he missed by never knowing his son. These approximately 450 pages, as the two main characters chat about their past and the son they have in common, make for compelling reading. Third, comes the book's ending, one I found to be particularly unsatisfying considering the number of pages it took me to get there. Grossman does such a superb job developing his characters that even the secondary ones come to life as the complicated relationships take shape. The story centers on a love triangle that has lasted for decades after the chance hospital meeting of Ora and the two young men who fall in love with her there, Avram and Ilan. Theirs is such a tangled relationship that Ora, although she marries Ilan, has sons by both men and it often seems that Ilan is more loyal to Avram than he is to her. At this late stage in the relationship, Avram has had, by far, the toughest life of the three, and it is a joy to watch as Ora tenderly gives him new life during their long walk by feeding him just the right details and stories about the son he never knew. This is not a perfect novel (as if there is such a thing) but I will remember it for a long time - not so much for its plotline, but because it gave me a feel for what it is like to live in a country where the threat of sudden death is always around. It is the burden of Israel's young people to protect their country from those so determined to destroy it, but the parents who must live with the terror of seeing their children march to war so regularly pay a high price of their own. I come away from "To the End of the Land" with an increased respect for Israel and her people and a belief that this is an important novel. Rated at: 3.5
A poignant anti-war book from one of Israel's most prominent writers (also a pillar of the intellectual Left). I found it painfully honest about what Israelis give up as a society and how much the current situation is hurting both sides of the conflict. His grief for his fallen son is also very very palpable when he explores the theme of fatherhood.Universal themes about humanity, family ties, human relations will readily accessible to any reader; other parts, will be immediately deciphered by Israelis but may be lost in translation. I liked it even though it saddened me a lot and made me long for the landscapes of Northern Israel.
Story told by Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother. Her son Ofer is voluntarily returns to the front for a major offensive and she is beside herself. Her husband has just left her and she chooses her best friend, and former lover to join her on a hike through Israel. This was such a fascinating read and I couldn't put it down.
This is an extraordinarily powerful novel about families, war, and what happens when families and war are inextricably intertwined. Like another reviewer, I don't think that "enjoyed" is the way I would describe my response to this novel: it is often painful, sometimes distressing, and at times (especially when the heroine is on a real tear) claustrophobic -- I listened to the book, and at times I wanted to pull out the earbuds and get away from the world Grossman creates. But I kept listening. I really couldn't have stopped, I cared so much about the characters, and I wanted to find out what happened next -- or more accurately what would next be revealed. Ex post, I am very glad to have read the book, and will recommend it strongly to friends and relations. It does what literature is supposed to do: put the reader in someone else's skin. And it is also, for a non-Israeli reader, very illuminating about what it means to be Israeli. Things from the inside are often far more complicated than they look from outside, and I learned a lot about the inside from this novel.
I was very involved with this book and cared about the characters deeply. The writing was amazing, and Grossman was able to share so much information, much of it mundane, and present it with much interest. I do feel the book was about 100 pages too long, and I tired of Ora and found her behavior a little too strange. It was still a worth read, and one of my favorite David Grossman books.
I am sorry not to have read the reviews below before dumping this book as being impossible to read. I was totally at a loss to understand where Davide Grossman was heading at the beginning - all so obscure and difficult - so did not press on.Perhaps, when I have more time to wade through the initial sea of mystery and confusion, I will take it up again.
Raw and painful, but a beautiful journey. Anyone that has lost a loved one can relate. Stick with it - it's worth it!
This book is very well written, but reading it is a SLOG! I can't remember when such a good story --itself a major downer-- has seemed like such a chore. I think it's too long by at least half. And now I feel guilty for saying so. -- catwak
David Grossman is a great writer. His work is moving and dramatic. You have to be willing to stay with him and let the mood, time, and place get to you. The translation is also wonderful. Through his fiction you learn about the people, the history, and the emotions of Israel. It isn't an easy place, and so it isn't an easy read. It is complex, riveting, and sometimes, painful, to read.
This is an excellent, thought-provoking book. I read it last year and bought a copy for a family member. Have recommended it to any thoughtful reading friends I have. The story is compelling, and the subtext remains with you for a long time.