The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
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T is for To the End of the Land
David Grossman’s To the End of the Land, arguably the finest Israeli novel of the first decade of the 21st century (and there’s a good deal of competition for that mantle from writers of the stature of Amos Oz, Etgar Keret and Aharon Appelfeld), has its origins in a long walk that the author took along the Israel National Trail in 2004 – from the Lebanese border in the north to his home outside Jerusalem.
When Grossman began working on the book, his elder son was nearing the end of his military service. (All Israeli citizens over the age of 18 must do military service, with certain exemptions on religious grounds, and for Arabs.)
His younger son, Uri, subsequently joined up, and in August 2006, when Grossman had almost finished writing the novel, he was killed, aged 20, while on active service in southern Lebanon.
In an author’s note appended to the book, which was published in Israel in 2008 (the English translation appeared two years later), Grossman wrote: “What changed, above all, was the echo of the reality in which the final draft was written.”
That echo is heard in the peregrinations of the novel’s protagonist, a woman named Ora, who leaves her home in Jerusalem to walk across Israel’s rugged interior to Galilee. Ora is in flight from the “notifiers” who are despatched by the Israel Defence Forces to inform families of the death of their loved ones in action. Her son Ofer has re-enlisted in the military and she is convinced that he won’t die as long as she keeps walking, and talking and writing about him as she walks.
Grossman’s compatriot and fellow novelist Alon Hilu has called To the End of the Land “the main book in the last decade of Israeli literature, because it deals with Israel but in a way that is so personal”. It does this by universalising Ora’s predicament – she hates what has become of her country, yet she has nowhere else to go.