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To the End of the Land

December 17, 2017

David Grossman, To the End of the Land. Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, 2010.

Ora is full of love. Her love sustains her family for twenty good years. So how does it happen that her oldest son breaks with Ora, saying, “You’re an unnatural mother”?

To the End of the Land is David Grossman’s exploration of how the daily reality of the Israel-Palestinian conflict affects the people living in it, and how it can poison the most intimate parts of their lives.

As teenagers, Ora, Avram and Ilan form an intense friendship. During the Yom Kippur war in 1973, Avram is captured and tortured by Egyptian forces. Afterwards, he feels that everything has died in him, and he withdraws from his previous life.

Ora marries Ilan and has two sons, Adam and Ofer. After the devastation with Avram, she feels she has paid her price, and cuts herself off from the Israel-Palestine “situation”. She creates a haven of love for her family. Once a week or so she wakes up and says quietly into Ilan’s ear, “Look at us. Aren’t we like a little underground cell in the heart of the ‘situation’?”

David Grossman (Penguin Random House)

But by the year 2000, her family is broken. Ora and Ilan have separated, and Adam has rejected her. She still has a relationship with Ofer, but only just. She and Ofer plan a hike in the Galilee when his military service ends. But on his discharge day the Second Intifada begins and he re-enlists. Devastated, Ora decides she will still do the hike – if she is not at home to receive the “notifiers”, Ofer will be safe.

She forces Avram, who is actually Ofer’s father, to come with her. In the past, Avram has never wanted to know about his son. Now Ora intends to keep Ofer safe by telling Avram all about him. In the process, she tells the story of her family. The relationship between Adam and Ofer, the way in which they support each other, is especially engaging. As Ora talks to Avram, she feels she is “reciting a eulogy for the family that once was, that will never be again.”

The family rupture occurs because Ora wants Ofer to promise he will never hurt anyone intentionally. As a soldier, he refuses to make this promise. He is involved in one incident where a Palestinian is put in harm’s way, and Ora cannot let this go. She is desperately trying to save her child from “the barbarian standing opposite her”.

Ora can no longer isolate herself from the “situation.”

“On the street she notices that people are “walking quickly, without looking one another in the eye. … she saw in almost every person a note that hinted at some latent possibility – the possibility of being a murderer or a victim, or both.”

The depth and complexity of characterisation in this novel made the characters real for me. I felt for them. I cannot remember loving any other fictional character as much as I now love Ora. This attachment intensifies the narrative tension in the multiple connected stories woven into the overarching plot line of the Galilee walk. We ache to know what happens next in each of these sub-stories, and sooner or later we are rewarded.

To the End of the Land is a beautifully constructed novel about a grim subject. Highly recommended.

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