July 4, 2020

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Mideast conflict trying for teen trio

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/3/2018 (847 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A contentious and many-faceted conflict is the backdrop for a classic coming-of-age tale, complete with love triangle and opposing sides for which there is no simple answer.

And while the premise may be rooted in the traditional, Sadness Is a White Bird packages those beloved themes into a stunningly written poetic narrative that will sweep you through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a modern-day Middle Eastern setting.

There is no question Jewish author Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s first novel is a comment on his politics. He is a public and vocal opposer to the Israeli opposition of Palestine, as demonstrated by opinion pieces such as the one he wrote in the New York Times titled Why I Won’t Serve Israel, or by following his Twitter account for a few days.

The story focuses on three teenagers on the cusp of adulthood — the American-born Jonathan, who has arrived in Israel with his family with a lifelong dream of joining the army and defending the Jewish state, and twins Nimreen and Laith, two Arabs with whom Jonathan forms a bond that challenges everything he thought he believed in.

We follow the trio as they laze away the final days of their childhood, falling in love, getting into a little trouble — though teenage trouble in a conflict zone undoubtedly adds a complicated and potentially deadly haze to just having some fun — and finding understanding in the differences and similarities they share. All the while, they’re trying their best to forget what is looming in front of them — that when Jonathan turns 18, he is joining the army and will effectively turn his gun toward them.

Despite the author’s clear intentions with this tale, he still manages to explore many sides of a conflict that is full of moving and complex parts. When we visit Jonathan’s grandfather’s past and the violent anti-Semitism he experienced, we are reminded repeatedly of what the Jewish people have suffered. Once Jonathan joins the army, the author’s description of his time in the field is powerful, detailed and moving.

The writing is fresh and lyrical and beautiful. Penned as a sort of love letter from Jonathan to Laith, the story is enveloping, putting you into the shoes of these characters. Nimreen and Laith are utterly lovable and multi-dimensional, and Rothman-Zecher’s portrayal of Jonathan’s struggle is nuanced and layered.

Rothman-Zecher himself served in the Israeli army for a time, and it seems that some parts of Jonathan’s story are autobiographical, lending authenticity and clarity to Jonathan’s voice. His portrayal of each character is sympathetic and well-rounded. While there is a political message here, Rothman-Zecher brings the story into human terms with passion and heart-wrenching consequences.

Nisha Tuli is a Winnipeg writer.

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