Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer's release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the 'notifiers' who might darken her door with the worst ...
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer's release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the 'notifiers' who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days' leave being offered by their commander - a chance act that sent Avram into Egpyt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as a POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy. Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, ford rivers and cross valleys, avoiding all news from the front, she gives him the gift of Ofer, word by word; she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora and for the reader, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a 'war and peace' rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the daily joys and anguish of raising children. Never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, and the burdens that fall on each generation anew. Grossman's rich imagining of a family in love and crisis makes for one of the great antiwar novels of our time.
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Grossman's language moves his stories forward like a tsunami, at the same time that each word holds a clear specificity. The layers of character discovery are riveting. The female character's relationships with the 2 sets of men in her life are complex and painful. Her memories of moments in her children's early lives have a stunning clarity that anyone who has ever held a child will be moved by. Impending loss brackets all of this. "If only" hangs over everything.
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