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To the End of the Land [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

David Grossman , Jessica Cohen
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: To the End of the Land is a book of mourning for those not dead, a mother's lament for life during a wartime that has no end in sight. At the same time, it's joyously and almost painfully alive, full to the point of rupture with the emotions and the endless quotidian details of a few deeply imagined lives. Ora, the Israeli mother in Grossman's story, is surrounded by men: Ilan and Avram, friends and lovers who form with her a love triangle whose intimacies and alliances fit no familiar shape, and their sons Adam and Ofer, one for each father, from whom Ora feels her separation like a wound. When Ofer, freshly released from his army service, volunteers for an action in the West Bank instead of going on a planned hike with his mother in the north of Israel, she goes instead with Avram, who fathered Ofer but has never met him and has lived in near-seclusion since being tortured as a prisoner in the Yom Kippur war three decades before. As they walk and carefully reveal themselves to each other again, Grossman builds an overwhelming portrait of, as one character says, the "thousands of moments and hours and days" that make "one person in the world," and of the power of war to destroy such a person, even--or especially--when they survive its cruel demands. --Tom Nissley

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Acclaimed Israeli author Grossman serves up a powerful meditation on war, friendship, and family. Instead of celebrating her son Ofer’s discharge from the Israeli Army, Ora finds her life turned upside down and inside out when he reenlists and is sent back to the front for a major offensive. Unable to bear the thought of sitting alone waiting for the “notifiers” to bring her bad news, the recently separated Ora decides to hike in the Galilee, where she will be both anonymous and inaccessible. Joined by her estranged best friend and former lover Avram, a recluse who never recovered from the brutality he experienced as a POW during the Yom Kippur War, she narrates the story of her doomed marriage to Ilan and her often arduous journey as a mother. As the tension mounts, she talks compulsively about Ofer, as if telling his story will protect him and keep him alive for both herself and for Avram, the biological father he has never met. As Ora and Avram travel back and forth through time via shared memories, the toll exacted by living in a land and among a people constantly at war is excruciatingly evident. Grossman, whose own son was killed during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, writes directly from the heart in this scorching antiwar novel. --Margaret Flanagan

Review

“This is a book of overwhelming power and intensity, David Grossman's masterpiece. Flaubert created his Emma, Tolstoy made his Anna, and now we have Grossman's Ora—as fully alive, as fully embodied, as any character in recent fiction. I devoured this long novel in a feverish trance. Wrenching, beautiful, unforgettable.”  —Paul Auster
 
“Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude. David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I've ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it. To the End of the Land is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense. To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.” —Nicole Krauss

About the Author

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into thirty languages around the world. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umitaria, the Premio Ischia— International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Walk, 2000

The convoy twists along, a stammering band of civilian cars, jeeps, military ambulances, tanks, and huge bulldozers on the backs of transporters. Her taxi driver is quiet and gloomy. His hand rests on the Mercedes’s gear shift and his thick neck does not move. For several long minutes he has looked neither at her nor at Ofer.

As soon as Ofer sat down in the cab, he let out an angry breath and flashed a look that said: Not the smartest idea, Mom, asking this particular driver to come along on a trip like this. Only then did she realize what she’d done. At seven that morning she had called Sami and asked him to come pick her up for a long drive to the Gilboa region. Now she remembers that for some reason she hadn’t given him any details or explained the purpose of the trip, the way she usually did. Sami had asked when she wanted him, and she’d hesitated and then said, “Come at three.” “Ora,” he’d said, “maybe we should leave earlier, ’cause traffic will be a mess.” That was his only acknowledgment of the day’s madness, but even then she didn’t get it and just said there was no way she could leave before three. She wanted to spend these hours with Ofer, and although Ofer agreed, she could tell how much effort his concession took. Seven or eight hours were all that was left of the weeklong trip she’d planned for the two of them, and now she realizes she hadn’t even told Sami on the phone that Ofer was part of the ride. Had she told him, he might have asked her to let him off today, just this one time, or he might have sent one of the Jewish drivers who worked for him—“my Jewish sector,” he called them. But when she’d called him she’d been in a state of complete frenzy, and it simply had not occurred to her—the unease slowly rises in her chest—that for this sort of drive, on a day like this, it was better not to call an Arab driver.

Even if he is an Arab from here, one of ours, Ilan prods at her brain as she tries to justify her own behavior. Even if it’s Sami, who’s almost one of the family, who’s been driving everyone—the people who work for Ilan, her estranged husband, and the whole family—for more than twenty years. They are his main livelihood, his regular monthly income, and he, in return, is obliged to be at their service around the clock, whenever they need him. They have been to his home in Abu Ghosh for family celebrations, they know his wife, Inaam, and they helped out with connections and money when his two older sons wanted to emigrate to Argentina. They’ve racked up hundreds of driving hours together, and she cannot recall his ever being this silent. With him, every drive is a stand-up show. He’s witty and sly, a political dodger who shoots in all directions with decoys and double-edged swords, and besides, she cannot imagine calling another driver. Driving herself is out of the question for the next year: she’s had three accidents and six moving violations in the past twelve months, an excessive crop even by her standards, and the loathsome judge who revoked her license had hissed that he was doing her a favor and that she really owed him her life. It would have all been so easy if she herself were driving Ofer. At least she’d have had another ninety minutes alone with him, and maybe she’d even have tempted him to stop on the way—there are some good restaurants in Wadi Ara. After all, one hour more, one hour less, what’s the rush? Why are you in such a hurry? Tell me, what is it that’s waiting for you there?

A trip alone with him will not happen anytime soon, nor alone with herself, and she has to get used to this constraint. She has to let it go, stop grieving every day for her robbed independence. She should be happy that at least she has Sami, who kept driving her even after the separation from Ilan. She hadn’t been capable of thinking about those kinds of details at the time, but Ilan had put his foot down. Sami was an explicit clause in their separation agreement, and he himself said he was divvied up between them like the furniture and the rugs and the silverware. “Us Arabs,” he would laugh, revealing a mouth full of huge teeth, “ever since the partition plan we’re used to you dividing us up.” The memory of his joke makes her cringe with the shame of what has happened today, of having somehow, in the general commotion, completely erased that part of him, his Arabness.

Since seeing Ofer this morning with the phone in his hand and the guilty look on his face, someone had come along and gently but firmly taken the management of her own affairs out of her hands. She had been dismissed, relegated to observer status, a gawking witness. Her thoughts were no more than flashes of emotion. She hovered through the rooms of the house with angular, truncated motions. Later they went to the mall to buy clothes and candy and CDs—there was a new Johnny Cash collection out—and all morning she walked beside him in a daze and giggled like a girl at everything he said. She devoured him with gaping wide looks, stocking up unabashedly for the endless years of hunger to come—of course they would come. From the moment he told her he was going, she had no doubt. Three times that morning she excused herself and went to the public restrooms, where she had diarrhea. Ofer laughed: “What’s up with you? What did you eat?” She stared at him and smiled feebly, engraving in her mind the sound of his laughter, the slight tilt of his head when he laughed.

The young cashier at the clothing store blushed as she watched him try on a shirt, and Ora thought proudly, My beloved is like a young hart. The girl working at the music store was one year behind him at school, and when she heard where he was going in three hours, she went over and hugged him, held him close with her tall, ample body, and insisted that he call her as soon as he got back. Seeing how blind her son was to these displays of emotion, it occurred to Ora that his heart was still bound to Talia. It had been a year since she’d left him, and she was still all he could see. She thought sadly that he was a loyal person, like her, and far more monogamous than she, and who knew how many years would pass before he got over Talia—if he even had any years left, she thought. She quickly erased the notion, scrubbing it furiously from her brain with both hands, but still a picture slipped through: Talia coming to visit them, to condole, perhaps to seek a sort of retroactive forgiveness from Ora, and she felt her face strain with anger. How could you hurt him like that? she thought, and she must have mumbled something out loud, because Ofer leaned down and asked softly, “What is it, Mom?” For a moment she did not see his face before her eyes—he had no face, her eyes stared into a void, pure terror. “Nothing. I was thinking about Talia. Have you talked to her recently?” Ofer waved his hand and said, “Forget that, it’s over.”



She kept checking the time. On her watch, on his, on the big clocks in the mall, on the television screens in appliance stores. Time was behaving strangely, sometimes flying, at other times crawling or coming to a complete standstill. It seemed to her that it might not even require much effort to roll it back, not too far, just thirty minutes or an hour at a time would be fine. The big things—time, destiny, God—could sometimes be worn down by petty haggling. They drove downtown to have lunch at a restaurant in the shuk, where they ordered lots of dishes although neither of them had an appetite. He tried to amuse her with stories from the checkpoint near Tapuach, where he’d served for seven months, and it was the first time she discovered that he would scan the thousands of Palestinians who passed through the checkpoint with a simple metal detector, like the one they used when you walked into the mall. “That’s all you had?” she whispered. He laughed: “What did you think I had?” “I didn’t think,” she said. He asked, “But didn’t you wonder how it’s done there?” There was a note of childish disappointment in his voice. She said, “But you never told me about it.” He presented a profile that said, You know exactly why, but before she could say anything he reached out and covered her hand with his—his broad, tanned, rough hand—and that simple rare touch almost stunned her and she fell silent. Ofer seemed to want, at the very last minute, to fill in what he had left out, and he told her hurriedly about the pillbox he’d lived in for four months, facing the northern neighborhood of Jenin, and how every morning at five he used to open the gate in the fence around the pillbox and make sure the Palestinians hadn’t booby-trapped it overnight. “You just walked over there like that, alone?” she asked. “Usually someone from the pillbox would cover me—I mean, if anyone was awake.” She wanted to ask more but her throat was dry, and Ofer shrugged and said in an elderly Palestinian man’s voice, “Kulo min Allah”—it’s all from God. She whispered, “I didn’t know,” and he laughed without any bitterness, as if he had understood that she could not be expected to know, and he told her about the kasbah in Nablus, which he said was the most interesting of all the kasbahs, the most ancient. “There are houses there from the Roman era and houses built like bridges over alleyways, and underneath the whole city there’s an aqueduct that goes from east to west, with canals and tunnels running in all directions, and the fugitives live there because they know we’ll never dare follow them down.” He spoke enthusiastically, as if he were telling her about a new video game, a...
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