Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TO THE END OF THE LAND by David Grossman

Ora, Avram, and Ilan meet as children in an Israeli hospital. The poetic, artistic Avram loves Ora but thinks that Ilan deserves her more. Ora and Ilan marry and have two sons, the younger of which is really Avram's, conceived while Ora and Ilan were separated. Now the sons are grown, and Ora and Ilan have split up again. This time Adam, the older son, and Ilan have embarked on an extended trip to South America. Meanwhile, Ofer, the younger son, has suddenly reenlisted in the Israeli army just before he and his mother were scheduled to take off backpacking. Despondent and unwilling to wait at home for the seemingly inevitable news that her son has been killed in action, Ora coerces the now reclusive Avram, scarred both mentally and physically from the torture he endured as a POW, to take Ofer's place on the trip. The bulk of the novel takes place on the Israel Trail, with these two reconnecting, as Ora acquaints Avram with his son via tales of her family's trials and tribulations. Until now, Avram has steadfastly refused to have any contact with his biological son Ofer. There is more symbolism here than I can begin to describe or interpret. Words are one of the major players, as Avram is a writer of sorts, and Ora begins documenting her stories in a notebook so that she won't forget them. As it turns out, Avram may know his son solely through Ora's words. Another current that runs through the book is that of how our loved ones anchor us to life. Avram admits that he is drifting through life and sees Ofer as a motivation to live that he finds oppressive. Ilan, too, in an effort to avoid the tether of fatherhood, abandons his family shortly after Adam is born. Near the end of the book, Avram asks Ofer if in fact children do not provide a constant reason to get out of bed each day, and she responds, "Not always. Not all the time." The backpacking trip is the ultimate escape trip from the anchor of looming heartbreak. The dust jacket refers to this novel as an antiwar novel, and I did not really pick up on that aspect of it, but it definitely gives the reader a sense of how precarious life in Israel is, where even a bus ride is iffy, with the wary passengers inspecting one another to see if a suicide bomber might be among them. Perhaps this uncertainty and fragility of life partially explain why the men in the book are so reluctant to bond with their sons.

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