Monday, September 5, 2011

Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant

Title: Wherever You Go
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.


  1. What a lovely, beautifully written review. I especially liked how you described how the author created characters that you could care about, even if not are not like you, or that you even always like. Have this one on the way, extra looking forward to it now!

  2. I think first and last lines are so important! I love that you include the first lines in your reviews, and love that this one has a great ending. This sounds like a compelling book!

  3. I just got this book for review as well, and after reading your very elegant thoughts about it, I am really excited to begin. It sounds like it's the kind of book that you can really sink into and get invested in, and that the characterization is tight as well. This was a fabulous review, and I enjoyed the way that it primed me for the greatness of the book!

  4. @bookspersonally: thank you! I can't wait to hear your thoughts -- I was so impressed with the author's skill in creating characters that moved me.

    @Jenny: Yes -- and being a quote lover, I love a perfect sentence. It's a really marvelous novel, even if one hasn't ever been moved to pick up something set in contemporary Israel. V good!

    @Heather: I can't wait to see what you think! It's a thin, impactful book -- really lovely.

  5. I love it when a book allows you to see life from the perspective of a character you might not have thought you'd like. Sounds like a lovely read!

  6. This does sound like a great book for a book club! And I love books with last lines that make you intake your breath!

  7. Really great review. I specifically love books with travel in them because I love to travel so much. This sounds interesting and tense: right up my alley.

  8. I was about to write something but then I spoke with bf and forgot. Oh my brain and a long day does not work ;)

  9. This is a beautiful review :) I have this one to read for a TLC Tour as well, so now I'm really looking forward to it.

  10. You have me so curious about this one and I just love books that transport me to places. Thanks for another great review.

  11. Sounds like a very thought-provoking read! Like you, I love to learn about other cultures and conflicts through well-written fiction. The Middle East is an area with which I'm not very familiar, so I think I would enjoy this one!

  12. I liked this one too! I seem to be reading a ton of books set in Israel lately (and somewhat accidentally), but Leegant's writing really shined for me.

  13. I am still reading this. I put it down to get some review books finished because I was paying too much attention to this book and not enout to the others. I'm back to it now and really enjoying it. I find that I'm taking my time with it not rushing through it. I feel like every paragraph, every sentence, almost every word Joan Leegant writes is important and says so much!
    I just skimmed the body of your review since I'm still reading but I will be back to read your review more thoroughly when I finish this book!

  14. I have a copy of this book just waiting for me to finish my current read - it sounds like an amazing book and I can't wait to pick it up.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  15. You can't shake the story and the ending is that good?? Sign me up for THAT.

  16. Love your review format and very glad to have found your blog! I'm happy you'll be joining us for the read-along, or at least joining the final discussion!