Customer Review

23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Friends of sorts . . ., April 9, 2007
This review is from: Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide (Hardcover)
Self-categorized on the book jacket as "Current Affairs," this book had me expecting an analysis of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the word "prisoners" in the title no more than a metaphor. In fact, a large part of the book takes place in an actual prison, and while it has much to say about Israeli-Palestinian relations, it is more correctly a memoir of an American Jewish journalist attempting to understand the nature of the conflict that has prevailed in that part of the Middle East since 1948. Finding the political in the personal, he tells of his own beginnings as a youthful Zionist living on Long Island and his years in Israel as his ideals are put to the test working on a kibbutz and then serving in the military police at a desert prison, where he first meets and attempts to befriend a Palestinian prisoner, Rafiq.

Later, working as a journalist based first in Jerusalem and then in Washington DC, the author travels often to Gaza and the West Bank to talk with Palestinians, many of them released prisoners, including his friend Rafiq. His conversations with Rafiq become a commentary on an accompanying account of the interlude of hope for resolution in the Oslo talks, the eventual collapse of the peace process, and the rise of suicide bombings. On both levels, it is a search for common ground that is as elusive as peace itself. The author clings to the hope that where friendship is possible between two men who cannot agree on anything else, coexistence is possible between Arabs and Jews.

This is a well written book that immerses the reader in the deeply bitter and violent conflict that has raged in this corner of the world for decades. The greater part of the book is peopled by Palestinians, each specifically drawn as they reveal themselves to the author, and representing a host of political points of view, from the reasonable to the extreme. Meanwhile, as the author's initial Leon Uris-fed idealism fades, the Israelis themselves are often portrayed as far less than admirable. Leavening the darkness inherent in his subject, the author often finds a kind of grim humor, frequently at his own expense, as he struggles to bring the light of reason to what becomes increasingly a litany of folly on all sides. Very much New Yorker style writing in its use of a personal perspective and its slow-moving, meandering structure, "Prisoners" makes for fascinating and rewarding reading. However, do not expect to be uplifted or reassured by its vision of a world mired in mutual distrust and hatred.
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