The divided self


Jonathan Garfinkel <em>Saqi Books, 320pp, £11.99</em>

Raised in an observant Jewish family and educated at a Jewish day school in Toronto with a curriculum focused on Zionism, the poet and playwright Jonathan Garfinkel believed for many years that he understood Israel. He describes the sense of certainty with which, as he acts in a kibbutz-themed play at 13, his upbringing imbues him: “On the grey tile floor, I bend down and start to dig. I’m planting the seeds. I’m singing sorrowful songs, longing for a land I do not know. But I do know it. I do.”

And yet, despite maintaining his religious practice into adulthood, attending synagogue faithfully with his partner, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of Israel that he has been taught to love. Ambivalence is a memoir of his first trip to the Holy Land. Garfinkel reconciles his preconceived notions of Israel with what he witnesses in the country itself, immersing himself in Palestinian and Israeli communities.

This is a book both painful and beautiful to read: by evoking the sharpness of his internal struggle with his sense of identity and his attitude towards Israel, Garfinkel makes his search for some kind of reconciliation serve as an apt microcosmic lens through which to view the Middle East’s most complicated conflict.

This article first appeared in the 31 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Is Boris a fake?