111 of 120 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cost of Living
David Grossman's new book, in hebrew titled Isha Borachat M'besora, translates literally as "A Woman Escaping From a Message." In Israel, the connotation of the word besora (message) acutely depicts the nightmare that the book's protagonist, Ora, is trying to escape: soldiers knocking at her door at 3 a.m. with the besora that her son has been killed in war...
Published on October 3, 2010 by ytaylor
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too tedious
When I requested this book from the Vine program, I really expected that I was going to love it. Unfortunately, I found the book to be torturous to read. As a mother, I can empathize with the fears, superstitions, and obsessions that can plague a mother who is frightened about the welfare of her child. However, the mother in this book obsessed to a degree that was...
Published on February 9, 2011 by Amazon Customer
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111 of 120 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cost of Living,
David Grossman's new book, in hebrew titled Isha Borachat M'besora, translates literally as "A Woman Escaping From a Message." In Israel, the connotation of the word besora (message) acutely depicts the nightmare that the book's protagonist, Ora, is trying to escape: soldiers knocking at her door at 3 a.m. with the besora that her son has been killed in war.
The catalyst for Oras journey - outlined in many other reviews here, is her attempt to escape her greatest fear, what she describes as the "nationalization" of her family--that Israel is coming to claim her son's life. Ofer was hers for twenty years, and now Ora must pay her dues.
Israel is a country that historically has dictated the nationalization of private emotions. It is a country where the culture of remembrance unifies and takes ownership over the dead. We - Israelis - mourn the loss of "our" fallen, and say kaddish (a prayer for the dead) for "our" sons. Society becomes a grieving "family," known in Hebrew as Mishpachat Hashchol. Publicly expressed grief becomes the language of the masses and the soundtrack of the nation.
Very few books in Israeli literature have so bravely dealt with the looming fear of death that surrounds Israeli society. Grossman does this so vehemently that it is hard to separate his bravery as an author from his bravery as a father who lost a son in the Second Lebanon War while writing this book. His message is unequivocal: the cost of living in Israel is that society is slowly losing its sense of normality.
Grossman spared no detail or emotion when he wrote this book. He did not leave one wound untouched or one fear forgotten. He evokes sadness in the reader, because the novel forces one to realize, at times, how abnormal life can be in Israel. He evokes hatred for his hero, Ora. She is controlling and paranoid. She makes every food that her son could dream of upon his return from the army, and her son hates her for that. She paces furiously, drives like a maniac, and panics at restaurants. She is every Israeli who goes to extremes to hold on to normality, and forgets what normality is.
When Ofer assuredly tells his mother that it is his responsibility as a soldier to die so that others won't, Ora's horror is difficult to internalize. While Israelis know, and for the large part accept, that they are required to sacrifice their lives for their country, to a non-Israeli reader, this is a difficult concept to comprehend.
It is abnormal to die for the land. It is abnormal to have an Arab taxi driver, a dear friend of Ora's, to drive her and Ofer to a meeting point where a war is being fought between their peoples. It is abnormal to calculate which seat on the bus is safest. It is abnormal to fear a 3-a.m. knock at the door. And it is abnormal to go through border controls when visiting family in Gush Etzion.
Necessary? Absolutely. This is the price that we are destined to pay.
I admit: Living in Israel can be exhausting. Many times I ask myself: why do I put myself through this? I want to get up and leave, but can't. I am not sure where this inability comes from. A burning ideology? A fear of the unknown? Or a mere resignation--what is meant to be will be.
Rarely can a book change lives in the way that Grossman's book has. It is part of the price that he paid, with his son's death, and it is a gift that he has given us, so that we remember the cost of living, at least as much as we remember the cost of dying.
125 of 141 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The toll of war and the power of family,
Ora, an Israeli mother, planned a Galilee backpacking trip with her youngest son, Ofer, to celebrate the end of his army conscription. But, like a fist through her soul, he signed up for a major offensive, another twenty-eight days. Barely holding her sanity together--her husband, Ilan, has trekked off to Bolivia with her oldest son, Adam--she flees from her fear of the "notifiers" (the government officials who deliver grave news) and leaves, anyway, sans cell phone and contact access.
Ora pleads with her reclusive old friend and former lover, Avram, erstwhile best friend to Ilan, to accompany her to the Galilee. She believes that, with Avram, they can form a thread that ties them to the land, to nature, to safety, to Ofer, and weave a tapestry that protects him from peril. With Avram, she can magically keep Ofer alive. No one else can extinguish bad thoughts and assist her to defy fate.
"...she was always easy with Avram, letting him see all of her, almost from the first moment she met him, because she had a feeling, a conviction that there was something inside her, or someone, perhaps an Ora more loyal to her own essence, more precise and less vague, and Avram seemed to have a way to reach her."
Years ago, Avram and Ilan were soldiers together, and the story explains how Avram lost his artistic spirit and love of words and suffered permanent damage and a death of the soul. As they hike, climb and acclimate to the wild terrain, Ora recapitulates the story of her family--the details of raising her sons and her forsaken marriage to Ilan. The germination and withering of the friendship between Ora, Avram, and Ilan is recounted in flashbacks and threaded into her story as a wife and mother.
The following quote refers to Ora talking to Ofer when he was only a few hours old:
"It surprised me how simple the story was when I told it to him. That was the first time (and probably the last) that I was able to think about us that way. The whole complication that was us, me and Avram and Ilan, all of a sudden became one little unequivocal child, and the story was simple."
The reader clings to the tensile wire of a mortal coil that underscores this hefty opus. Ora is beseeching the universe to keep Ofer alive while simultaneously striving to rescue Avram's spirit. The secrets and treacheries they share and their separate and private agonies are knotted together, and the frayed but enduring fibers unwind and snap through the story.
Grossman is an eloquent and assiduous writer of internal struggle and emotional combat. He leaves no stone unturned, and the reader is saturated with Ora's psyche on every page. I was sometimes exhausted with the relentless, strenuous tone of his narrative. The surplus verbiage and chronic turmoil drowned his beautiful nuances and periodically made reading a chore. Ora's self-indulgence struck me as pretext for the author's prolixity.
However, there is abundant beauty and unbreakable heart to this story, which, while swollen at times, is never pompous. It is visceral and sometimes surreal, but much less stream-of-consciousness and magical realism than some of his previous novels purport to be. And, from Avram, there was often relief from Ora's tautology. The sections on him were full of delightful, clever word-play and ribald wit.
Aesthetically, the final, transcendent scene was painterly, exquisite, and delicate, recalling, for me, (in spirit, not in actual event) the elegance in the final scene of Kate Grenville's story of war, The Lieutenant. Grossman shakes the reader with the toll of war and the trials of raising a family. The burdens of choice, ambivalence, and fate linger on from one generation to the next.
This moving story has a loose, allegorical significance to Tolstoy's War and Peace and reworks the first line to Anna Karenina to remind us that all happy families are miserable in different ways.
159 of 183 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Masterfully written, difficult to review,
When I finished To the End of the Land by David Grossman it was very difficult to review. Too many reviewers begin with plot summaries and those become tiresome after a while, especially when the plot itself is tiresome, so I avoid its retelling here. Although I did find the plot tedious, that is not to say it is without quality or intelligence. The plot is unique and masterfully written but the narrative structure which drives the plot, a narrative within a narrative, was for this reader arduous and exhausting.
On the whole this novel did not work for me but I cannot say that I did not like the book. There are aspects of its 600 pages that really engaged me and I found deeply poignant and valuable. However, I believe less is more in literature and that creative expression is much more exquisite and impressive with an economy of words. The overindulgence in the psyche of To the End of the Land's main character, a middle-aged Israeli woman named Ora, is overwrought and causes the pacing of the novel to falter. Any dramatic tension in the plot seems to get overwhelmed or even lost in the author's prolonged verbosity.
The novel does have its arresting moments of beautiful eloquence and stunning imagery but it is strenuous reading to find those hidden literary gems. They are buried deep within Ora's stream-of-consciousness inner dialogues and contemplative programming which are dull, repetitious and tedious. I felt trapped and suffocated inside Ora's head. Nor could I warm up to her character. I found her too narrow, too self-absorbed, too boring. Ora carries a heavy burden of secrets, guilt and fear on her back as well as overpowering maternal instincts, profound love for her two sons, Adam and Ofer, and an enormous passion for each of her two best friends and lovers, Ilan (also her estranged husband) and Avram. That's quite a lopsided load for her character to bear and there are many agonizing emotional moments of tears, wailing, gnashing of teeth, even crawling into the earth with grief. Yet somehow she never engages me and her grief does not generate a true sense of loss or despair but rather a banal sense of melodrama which draws little to no empathy.
There are anecdotal elements of various historic events involving the State of Israel which come into play in the telling of the story, elements providing thrust and significance to the plotting, which I, being a non-Jew, found insightful if one-sided. However, as moving as the effects of these events are to the Israeli people as reflected in the telling of To the End of the Land, especially at the hand of such a master writer as David Grossman, I still felt somewhat manipulated into taking a political position I did not care to assume. That kind of manipulation actually turns me off as a neutral reader but still I appreciate the life that Grossman has breathed into his characters. I was particularly moved by the characterization of the Arab-Israeli taxi driver named Sami who is introduced in the earlier part of the novel. I actually cared about him and was sorry his role was so limited in the story. There is very interesting interaction between Sami and Ora which I found moving and memorable.
Another fine quality of the novel which I particularly loved is the beauty of the Israeli landscape that Grossman so eloquently describes. The Galilean countryside is a healing panorama of poetry and peacefulness. In spite of the savagery of the wars and the conflicts, the hatred and the violence that have plagued it throughout history, the implacable beauty of the country still shines through to soothe the soul.
I also enjoyed Grossman's gift of eroticism. The lovemaking he describes is beautiful, sensual and never vulgar.
It is just too bad that Grossman focuses so much on Ora's psyche. I think I could have given this novel 4 stars without quite so much of it. I also found the very long winded, overly-detailed "secret" which Ora reveals to Avram word-for-word on their hike through the Galilee quite unbelievable in the telling and another turn-off.
I was also very disappointed with the novel's unresolved denouement which I found incomplete and unrewarding after such an investment of my time and effort to struggle along with the bloated length of this novel.
But in spite of all I consider as its drawbacks, this novel is still an important one. As long as wars are being fought anywhere, sons and daughters will be killed, parents will be bereaved and families will suffer. To the End of the Land is an acknowledgement of this terrible grief and pain.
In that regard, I must say with all due respect to David Grossman, that I give this novel 4 stars rather than less because of his heart-wrenching final comments at the end of the book. Becoming aware that Mr. Grossman's son was killed in an attack on Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon while he was finishing this novel has certainly softened my heart. To realize that this novel is surely the outpouring of Mr. Grossman's grief for a son lost in a futile war makes To the End of the Land all the more poignant. I bless him and wish him comfort and peace.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of the kind that wins a Nobel Prize,
This review is from: To the End of the Land (Audio CD)
Grossman has a way with words. There are not many people who master Hebrew as he does. His ability to express ideas, thoughts, sentiments, characters, the inner human streams that run in our hearts and minds is admirable. Grossman takes you by the hand, slowly makes you immerse in the story, your soul intertwined with the pictures he paints, you become part of all that is happening to the heroes, all the twists and turns, the emotions, the turmoil, the storms, the fears, the hopes, the love.
I have never read such a characterization of a relationship between parents and children. It is deep. It is penetrating. It is true. It sweeps you off your feet.
The Hebrew title is truer to the story. It is about a mother, whose younger child is recruited to serve in yet another military operation in a foreign land, designed to promote the security of a nation in arms. She cannot stand the tension. The idea of three officers knocking on her door, announcing the death of her soldier boy, torments her. She decides to trick them. She leaves her home. If there is no recipient to the news, then there will be no news. Together with a close friend, father of her soldier son, she tours the north of Israel. The father never saw his son. He knows nothing about him. While touring beautiful Israel, Ora tells Avram the story of Ofer's life. The story is down to the fine details of memories since Ofer was a baby, until his becoming a young man. The stories move you, startle you; it is impossible to remain aloof, uninvolved. Grossman is an artist with a fine brush, a genius of the pen.
Grossman lost his son Uri in the most unfortunate Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006. A Woman Run Away from News can be seen as his farewell from Uri. Grossman had completed most of the book before he received the news about the death of his son. It is shivering.
A Woman Run Away from News is a masterpiece of the kind that wins a Nobel Prize. Surely, the translation cannot be 100 percent to the original. But I hope that not too many idioms and ideas are left out.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A profound exploration of the scars of war,
It's difficult for me to write this review because I'm not sure how to write it in a way that will convey the profound and moving experience that is Grossman's novel. It is sprawling; a thoughtful, heartrending and tragically personal rendering of lives torn apart by war.
This is not a fast-paced, plot-driven novel. Reading it is like taking a very slow drive through the country, where the goal is not the destination but the absorption of your surroundings. There is a great deal of stream-of- consciousness writing that moves between present-day hike, the youth of Ora, Ilan and Avram, and the family years of Ora and Ilan.
Overarching all the characters' lives is the shadow of war and conflict. Ora is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, the wife of a former soldier, and the mother of a son who is going into conflict. Ora decides to hike the Galilee, a hike that she had planned to do with her son, in a spurt of magical thinking: if she's not home to receive the news that her son has died in battle, then he can't die. She takes along Avram, her former lover, who has his own battle scars. Her past and present are marred by war. In one touchingly sad scene Ora recalls a day on which she compulsively rode the bus back and forth, every day for weeks, apparently both in spite of and because of the likelihood of falling victim to a terrorist attack. She describes walking through the city and looking at everyone as though they could be a suicide bomber, then realizing they are looking at her the same way. It is impossible for the reader not to imagine themselves and their loved ones in such a city, where violence never sleeps.
Grossman also explores the complex relationship between the opposing sides of a conflict. Ora's driver is Sami, an Arab, and she is both saddened and infuriated by the distance that the current conflict imposes in their relationship. During a particularly graphic reminiscence of a war scene, one of the characters recalls the moment when he realizes that the "enemies" are humans just like him, in a different uniform. Over and over the age-old question is raised: why must we fight like this, and when does it stop?
This novel resonated with me because I've been through a loved one's deployment. Ora's feelings and actions, her determination to keep talking about Ofer in order to keep him alive, seem like nonsense at times, but in the crazymaking atmosphere of living constantly with a loved one being in harm's way, they make perfect sense. Sadly, the author has lived the truth about which he writes: his own son was killed in conflict in Lebanon.
This was a profound, deep, moving novel to read. It has stood out among the best books I've read this year, and it has lingered with me long after I finished it. Very highly recommended.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent portrait of painful reality of Israel,
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This magnificent novel, if there is any justice in the world, should earn David Grossman a Nobel Prize for Literature. Of course, there being no justice in the world, the Swedish academicians may be reluctant to honor an Israeli. They would be wrong not to do so because this is a book that does full justice to the pain of being an Israeli-and yet is universal in its appeal.
The three central characters are Ora and her two lovers, Avram and Ilan. The book begins during their feverish meeting as teenagers during the 1967 war but mostly it takes place in 1973 and in the present. Ora's younger son Ofer was about to complete his compulsory military service but suddenly on his last day he volunteers to sign up for an extra month so he can take part in a major military operation. Ora is certain he will die -- and she conceives the idea of hiking a trail from the north of Israel -- the 'end of the land' -- back to her home in Jerusalem. She has a mystical belief that if she is not home when the soldiers come to inform her of her son's death, he will not have died. As long as she keeps moving, he will be safe.
Has there ever been in literature a more poignant depiction of a mother's fear while her son goes to war? I don't think so.
Ora drags along on her trek an old friend and lover, Avram. First depicted as a brilliant, intellectual youth with literary ambitions, full of life and love of life, Avram has been a shell of himself for the past 30 years. He was captured by the Egyptians during the Yom Kippur War and brutally tortured. Now, horribly traumatized, he is barely existing.
The third leg of this three-legged stool is Ilan, the weakest of the protagonists. Ora's estranged husband and Avram's erstwhile best friend, he has fled his marriage for South America, taking his eldest son, Adam, along with him.
As Ora and Avram walk the trail, having the odd adventure along the way, Ora describes for her old friend the story of her son (who it turns out is also his son) from the time of his birth to the present. As a father, I found these descriptions amazingly poignant. What makes them almost unbearable is that the author's own beloved son was killed in the "Second Lebanon War" just as he was completing this book. The book was his attempt to keep his son safe. It failed.
Ora and Avram achieve a measure of healing as they walk through the beautiful mountains of Galilee. But it is always incomplete. We don't know whether Ofer lives or dies -- but as long as the perpetual war persists, someone's son will be dying. As Ora and Avram walk, they pass one memorial marker after another for Israel's fallen soldiers, the flower of its youth.
This book doesn't shy away from some of the uglier aspects of Israel. It describes Ora's very problematic relationship with an Arab taxi driver who is almost a friend -- and yet not a friend.
This book is full of human compassion. It is sometimes not easy to read. It describes a depth of love and longing that is almost palpable -- and is very powerful and painful, especially since we know about the author's own tragedy. It captures the Israeli dilemma. In many ways Avram is Israel -- brilliant, witty, intelligent, inventive -- and yet terribly psychically wounded by a war that never ends.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too tedious,
When I requested this book from the Vine program, I really expected that I was going to love it. Unfortunately, I found the book to be torturous to read. As a mother, I can empathize with the fears, superstitions, and obsessions that can plague a mother who is frightened about the welfare of her child. However, the mother in this book obsessed to a degree that was excessive and became redundant. I understand that the mother's fears were justified, but I did not enjoy reading about it. I did find the characters unique and well developed, but I might have enjoyed the book more if it had been half as long (since so much of it seemed repetitive).
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a stunning accomplishment,
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I don't think I have EVER read a book that awed me the way this one did. I was shaken throughout. How Grossman articulates the voice of a mother, describes the land of Israel, makes us think is simply stunning.
I would recommend that anyone who is interested in families, love and parenthood will find something here. Anyone who cares about the impact of war on individuals will resonate to this exquisite book and the incredible translation.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating and Unforgettable Anti-war Novel,
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, separated from her husband Ilan, plans a hike in northern Israel with her son Ofer, when he gets out of the Army. But Ofer betrays her by re-enlisting for a dangerous mission in the West Bank. Angry and frightened she decides to go on the hike anyway so if bad news comes from the "notifiers" she won't be home to get it. Since Ilan, her husband, has left her she asks Avram, her former lover and once Ilan's best friend, to go with her and he agrees. As young enlisted men Ilan and Avram had once, almost as a lark, asked Ora to draw lots to see who would get a coveted few days leave from the Army. Ilan won and was safe, but Avram was captured by the Egyptians and brutally tortured. Eventually released he comes home, but is never the same. Yet to both their surprises he goes on the hike with Ora. And as they climb hills, ford rivers, and find each other physically again, Ora talks constantly of Ofer, introducing Avram to the son he's never met. Her memories vividly portray the joy of raising children, and also what it's like to live in a small country surrounded by enemies and almost constantly at war, and the toll it takes on its inhabitants. The pain and humanity shown here are breathtaking.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Month of Magical Thinking,
If this book were not so confoundedly long, there is a lot in it I would praise. I was impressed, for instance, by the phantasmagorical prologue, in which three Israeli teenagers, sick with high fever in the wake of some epidemic, meet up by night in a darkened Jerusalem hospital that has been almost evacuated in anticipation of casualties from the 1967 Six Day War. The bonds forged between the three of them -- the girl Ora and the two boys Avram and Ilan -- will last a lifetime. I was impressed at first, too, by the immediacy and tension of the story when it jumps ahead to 2000. Ora is married to Ilan, but he has recently left her, taking their elder son with him. Although Ofer, her younger son, has virtually ended his military service, he returns to take part in some further war in the North, and Ora has their Palestinian driver Sami take them to the meeting point, a strangely insensitive mission to ask an Arab to undertake. But Grossman himself is not insensitive, balancing this extraordinary event against a long background of apparent friendship between Ora's family and Sami, who in turn exacts his own price. After so much polemical writing set in the Middle East, this political frankness was heartening; Grossman is clearly a writer whom one can trust.
But this too is only prelude. It is not until page 116 that the main part of the novel begins. Ora is convinced that at any moment a notification team will turn up at her house to inform her of Ofer's death. As a kind of magical thinking to protect both him and herself, she flees the house, picks up Avram, and takes him into the mountains of the Galilee, where she proposes they hike together for the next month, away from news of the outside world. Avram, whom Ora has not seen for several years, now appears to be a broken man, physically, spiritually, or both. His connections with Ilan, Ora and her children will be explained gradually over the course of the next 460 pages, although other reviewers and the product description itself give several key facts away. In a narrative that seemingly occupies three or four different time-frames at once, we will learn of Avram's traumatic experiences during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the testing of the close bonds between him and Ilan, the strains in Ora's marriage, and the upbringing of her two sons -- all overshadowed by her fear of Ofer's death. Even as we follow Ora and Avram in their hike through wild and beautiful country, their trail is dotted with memorials to Israeli soldiers killed in defence of their land, exactly the kind of memento mori that Ora is hoping to avoid.
Were these elements in better balance, the book might be superb. But Ora's magical thinking dominates all; it is almost though she is exorcising a premature grief. Imagine a mother going through every picture in every family album, and telling you exactly what her child was doing when it was taken, the clever things he said, the phases he went through, the small worries he caused. The obsessive detail is excruciating. When Grossman describes the actual hike, he can be superb; there are marvelous incidents such as a meeting with a peripatetic messiah of mirth, or a terrifying encounter with a pack of wild dogs, but these are too few and far between. My interest picked up towards the end, which describes the desperate fighting in Sinai just before the change of fortunes in the Yom Kippur War. And on an almost metaphorical level, Grossman offers an insight into Israeli psychology that strikes me as being deeply authentic. But when everything has to be filtered through the mind of a warm but obsessive and often hallucinating woman, it can be hard going to get there -- though the very ending is grace itself. [3.5 stars, just.]
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To the End of the Land (Vintage International) by David Grossman (Paperback - August 9, 2011)