Middle East novel compulsory reading

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Almost Dead

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/07/2010 (4514 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Almost Dead

By Assaf Gavron

HarperCollins, 328 pages, $19

THIS darkly comic and profoundly moving novel should be compulsory reading for everyone who ventures an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli author Assaf Gavron follows the lives of two men during the Second Intifada, alternating between their two voices and personal narratives.

Eitan Enoch is a 30-something Israeli yuppie who survives three terrorist attacks in one week; Fahmi Sabih is a 20-something Palestinian who builds the bombs used in these attacks.

The novel, translated into English from its original Hebrew, illustrates what it is like to live in a place where the stress of daily life is truly different than anywhere else in the world.

Eitan, nicknamed Croc, is haunted by all those who have been killed instead of him, among them his fellow travellers on a Tel Aviv mini-bus, the soldier he picked up hitchhiking, the woman whom he trades seats with at a Jerusalem café, and his childhood friend who died in Lebanon at the very hour that Croc himself came under attack in the West Bank.

Fahmi, too, is haunted by voices and images. These include his parched mother begging for water, his proud father beseeching him not to follow in the path of his older fundamentalist brother, the village girl he loved and left behind, and the gentle Russian-Israeli nurse who bathes and encourages him as he lies in a coma following a failed terrorist attack.

Both of the men’s voices are clear, unadulterated and brimming with wit, poignancy, intelligence and honesty.

What they each observe and comment on speaks volumes about Israelis and Palestinians and the memory and mentality that guides and often misguides their actions and reactions.

“You feel your turn waiting for you round the next corner,” Croc says after surviving his second attack. “Yours, or someone you love. It is embodied in the geography. It is encoded in the national genes. With every attack the feeling gets stronger: that the death of someone close to you is getting nearer by the moment: next week, the next street, tomorrow, today, and then suddenly it’s right there.”

Later, Fahmi, grenade in hand, reflects, “You wanted your life to have a purpose. But will it matter at all, to anyone or anything, if you take your finger out of the ring … Does it matter if you build a bomb? Rot in the ground? Start university? Go to Australia? Hold the grenade to your chest or throw it away?”

Like Canadian-Israeli author Edeet Ravel’s haunting 2003 novel, 10,000 Lovers, Almost Dead is a story about the people affected daily by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ambivalence they often feel toward each other and toward the land, and the way in which that conflict affects everything that they say and do.

In spite of their keen observations, neither Croc nor Fahmi is particularly likable; Croc because he is cynical and self-absorbed and Fahmi because he chooses bomb-making over love and university.

But it is this, their unheroic nature, their very ordinariness, that makes their converging story so effective.

And it is this story, well told and well balanced, that makes this novel so powerful and engaging.

Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer and editor.

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