This is a highly acclaimed literary novel based on a true story about Jews and Palestinians and their forever conflict. The story here is mainly about two fathers who are grieving the killing their young daughters, both mind-numbingly tragic, during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict although at very different times and places. And the girls and their families are quite different, too, with one being Jewish and the other Palestinian.
by Colum McCann
2022 – 468 pages
Read by the author
Rating – 9 / literary historical fiction
(Both read and listened)
Rami Elhanan is a Jewish graphic artist and the father of Smadar, age 13, killed by a suicide bomber in 1997. Bassam Aramin is a Palestinian scholar and activist and the father of 10-year old Abir who was killed by a single and deliberate, random shooting in 2007. They are both Israeli.
Collum McCann puts the stories of these two men together because in the current time frame they travel around speaking of the importance of peace in Israel. How can two men who hated each other’s presence in “their” country and were victimized by them and wanted revenge most of all, realize they have to go on from their grief and forgive and remember and teach.
The lack of chronology and alternating the main characters in the 1001 chapters of varying length got me totally confused. I started over twice, but I finally got that much (barely) and just kept going anyway, although I did check back sometimes and/or check with Google. The reason I was confused was mostly due to the lack of chronology and the alternating characters. The situations are so much alike and that is McCann’s point.
These girls and their fathers also had unfamiliar names and I couldn’t tell which girl was Jewish and which was Palestinian. (Again, to emphasize, they are both Israeli – and to McCann’s point, does it matter?.)
Then! After the half-way point, Chapter 500, comes Chapter 1001 and then back to 500 for the count back down. I think there’s a point there, too – something about a cycle.
Imo, this confusion was deliberate on the part of the author. He wants us to see them both as human beings first and as Israeli second. They are both innocent little girls from largish, good families and are deeply loved. McCann shows us the similarities.
Another theme is the oppressive nature of the Israeli government. Citizens (both Israeli and Palestinian) have to stay where they’re assigned. Going elsewhere involves a lot of paperwork and strip searches even if you have business in the another sector. The armed guards are suspicious of everything. Bassam was a prisoner for many years.
The story keeps going back and forth in time describing bloody and angry situations as the men remember the past and think about their daily lives. This is interspersed with rather philosophical insights or historical information.
And the history – (if that’s what 30+ years is) so many names and places and incidents are true. But this can’t be labeled as nonfiction because McCann imagined parts of a story line using real historical people. I usually dislike that but in this case he says he got their permission. Okay fine. And that leaves me on the fence of not knowing whether some person or incident is true. That’s fine, too, because I look it up. If I find it to be truthful enough – kudos to the author for the research. If it’s not true well that’s fine too and kudos to the author for inventing it. (I just like knowing.)
So we find all sorts of tidbits in this book ranging from Phillips Petit (the high wire walker who also appeared in “Let the Great World Spin”) to Mordechai Vanunu (an Israeli whistle-blower) to Jorge Borges (writer) and Einstein (Jewish physicist) and from song birds to the Soviet’s bombing of Finland in WWII. It’s almost like one of those “encyclopedic” novels popular in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Enjoy! I would read it again but it can be pretty draining.