Author: Joan Leegant
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Israel / Family / Judaism / Terrorism)
Publisher/Publication Date: W. W. Norton & Company (7/25/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked to love -- I keep chewing on it and I can't shake the story (in a good way!)
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: Three Americans travel to Israel, seeking an answer to a private question, and their lives intersect in a violent, dramatic, life-changing moment.
Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it's got this expansive feel that emulates some of the spaciousness the characters are searching for and indicates a key scene in the novel's story.
First line: The metallic clanging.
Did... this have an armchair escape feel?: YES. If you need a trip now that the summer is winding down, pick this up. While it's not a relaxing vacation, Leegant's writing evokes Israel so beautifully, I felt there, from the airports to the deserts. Amazing.
Did... this novel have another closing line that made me inhale sharply: YES. So.good.
Did... I love seeing Evan Fallenberg in Leegant's acknowledgements?: I loved Fallenberg's novel and I found him a delight to interview so it makes me happy that two authors I like know each other.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy: this is a beautifully written book.
Why did I get this book?: I've always been interested in the Middle East and I love fiction from the area; it's my favorite way to learn more about the conflicts, challenges, and people. This book did not disappoint!
Review: This beautiful book captured me from the first page: Leegant's writing style is effortless, detailed, lyrical, and compelling. In a single page, she sketches the beauty of a location, the mood of the setting, a flashback, the present challenge. Set in modern-day Israel, it follows three Jewish Americans who come to Israel for different reasons -- reconciliation, escape, a desire for peace -- and while the story features some complicated back story (the situation with Israeli settlers, for example) Leegant presents crucial information without bogging down the narrative.
While the events are very contemporary and specific to Israel, the challenges the characters experience are ones that are familiar and resonate. I didn't race through the story, exactly, but there was a sense of urgency building, even as the characters waited, considered, circled restlessly. There's a tension from wondering, when will it happen?, 'it' being the terrible heartache or betrayal or violence we know is waiting to emerge. Topically, the characters weren't entirely likeable but they were compelling, their pain real, and I actually found myself sympathetic to almost all of them. Leegant created people who are unlike me, with values unlike mine, that I ultimately cared about; she articulated a world alien to me that I wanted to become a part of, and her skill is that all she wrote felt real. The pain and hunger the characters felt were the kinds of emotions I've felt before.
This would be a fantastic novel for a book group or anyone who enjoys fiction that educates and enlightens (in a subtle way!), or a reader who loves complicated characters and a beautiful, fractious locale. This is a book that I suspect will stick with me for a long time -- I'm still chewing over it as I try to read other books. Lovely, moving, beautiful.