This is a magnificent work of art, a novel I have lived with for the last few weeks–compelling myself to turn the pages slower than I wanted to turn them because I wanted to continue to live with these characters and because I was afraid of what the ending held.
This is a moving panoramic book, an antiwar novel of the heart, a mother’s story. The mother, Ora, is as full-bodied, intelligent, emotionally complex, and true a woman as I have ever met in fiction.
Why did Grossman tell this story through the voice of a woman, a mother?
Because it is the story of trying to preserve one small sweet family–a mother, a father, their best friend, and their two sons–against all-consuming military vigilance, “the situation”–that has turned a country into a war machine and its men into sacrificial heroes.
Ora’s men–her husband Ilan, her sons Adam and Ofer, and her best friend and sometime lover Avram–have all done, or are doing, their military service; Avram, as a POW of the Egyptians, was tortured, and broken. While Ora tries to preserve feminine, maternal, joy and love and family happiness, the men around her share a bitter insider knowledge; they come home on leave altered, hardened. Her efforts to preserve her sons’ youthful whimsy and sweetness are doomed. At her own dinner table, Ora is shut out, forced to wildly guess what the men are talking about, resorting to magical thinking and magical action to try to keep them safe, and finally unable to ward off the awful truth that the never-ending war will roll over and crush everything dear to her.
The interweaving of the personal and the political has rarely been performed so deftly. I am wrenchingly moved by this book.