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hiking the galilee

 

with David Grossman

 

 

To the End of the Land resonates with the sorrowful knowledge that David Grossman’s son Uri was killed in the 2006 Lebanon war while he was at work on the book.  Grossman began writing the novel in 2003 when his younger son Uri had just enlisted. He says in the epilogue: “At the time, I had the feeling—or rather, a wish—that the book I was writing would protect him.”  After Uri’s death, Grossman went on to complete the manuscript, which had mostly been written: ”What changed, above all, was the echo of the reality in which the final draft was written.”  And this echo is there not only in the writing but also in the reading—this lovely and haunting story where an Israeli woman, Ora, decides to protect her son Ofer who has just re-enlisted for a 28-day tour of duty by going on a long trek.  To walk the length of Israel to ‘the end of the land’ in some magical quest of her own making.

 


The slopes of Mt. Hermon (Photo: Israel Ministry of Tourism)

'...they look north, to the purple-misted Hermon, and to the Hula Valley and the green Naphtali mountain range.'

 

Ora cajoles the initially reluctant Avram (her ex-lover and also the father of Ofer) to accompany her on this long hike (her husband Ilan has recently left her and is with her older son in South America).  Ora’s attempt to both capture and hold fast Ofer in the retelling of his life to Avram as they walk, and her poignant notion of out-maneuvering the notifiers by not being at home: 'There will be no one to receive this notice, and so it will not be delivered.'  A vow she has made: ‘...that this is the law she must now obey: not to stay in one place for too long, not to be a sitting target—for people or thoughts.’  These are rules and stipulations for her own survival, for Ofer’s survival.  And the long walk as metaphor: "...you have to go from point to point, you can’t skip anything.  It's like the trail is teaching us to walk at its pace."  

 

Her son’s name, Ofer, chosen from a verse in the Song of Songs:

My love is like a young hart – Domech dodi le’Ofer ayalim

A young hart she now wants to protect by taking this journey; also the plangent hollow echo of the idea of losing one’s child to a war that one is not entirely convinced about.

 

Grossman, a leading liberal writer in Israel, together with writers A. B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz had publicly denounced the escalation of the Second Lebanon war before the death of his son.  Grossman is also the man who refused to shake hands with Ehud Olmert at an awards ceremony, and about which event he has said, "My action speaks for itself; the interpretation, I leave to others.”  But in this novel he speaks most eloquently, as if to say that signs and signals are never enough, as if compelled to pour his very heart out, so that in the very detailing of the nuances of the physical and the emotional the constant threat of devastation is somehow vanquished.  To the End of the Land is a wake for the living and the dead, for life in contemporary Israel and for the death of his son and all the soldiers lost in battle: a lament that encompasses war and bereavement but that also rejoices in life itself as it lingers on moments of love, of childhood, of the traumas of war, of this journey in the Galilee with its lovely landscape of terebinths and spurge.... 

 

 

Read: To the End of the Land

 

Tags:  literature  library  israel  language  history  books  war     

 

 

 

 

 

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