There is no way to absorb or understand — and never ever to accept — the Hamas attack on Israel last week and equally difficult to process the Israeli response. I always turn to books to try to understand the world I live in, and novels are often the best way to explore the human impacts of political, religious, and social events that shape the world. The five following novels are among my favorite books in a lifetime of reading books (and one year of reading a book a day) and also are some of the best novels which present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict realistically but also with an encompassing humanism, and which utilize personal experience and revelation to present universal meaning. The authors of these novels also offer their own glimmer of hope that we humans can find a way out of the escalating and horrific violence in the Middle East.
In To the End of the Land by David Grossman (2010, translated by Jessica Cohen), Ora, an Israeli woman, sets out on a walk through the Galilee. Ora was supposed to hike with her younger son Ofer as a way of celebrating the end of his mandatory service with the IDF. But at the last minute Ofer re-enlisted in the army and now Ora walks accompanied by Ofer’s father, a man who is still recovering from his own military service decades earlier, when he was captured by the Egyptian forces and tortured.
Ora is terrified that Ofer will not make it through his 28-day re-enlistment alive. She reasons that by going out on her long and winding walk, the “notifiers” — the officials who deliver the notification of death in battle to family members — will not be able to find her and deliver their message and thus Ofer cannot die: “She will be the first notification-refusenik.” But Ora is reminded of death everywhere on the hike. While there is incredible natural beauty (which Grossman describes so well and with an obvious love for the country of Israel, which exists alongside his frustration with the government’s policies), there are also plaques posted throughout the countryside commemorating the young soldiers who died while fighting for their country. Ora is horrified by the proof of the never-ending war’s terrible cost on both sides, and she becomes increasingly certain that the next child to die will be her own.
In the midst of writing this novel, David Grossman himself received notification that his youngest son Uri, serving his deployment in the IDF, had been killed. Somehow Grossman managed to finish writing…