To the End of the Land
By David Grossman
(McClelland & Stewart) $34.99
Ora is an Israeli mother who fears the “notifiers” — the military officials who inform families their loved ones have perished in combat — more than anything. When her youngest son, a soon-to-be-discharged soldier named Ofer, volunteers for one last operation during the Second Intifada in 2000, she decides to go hiking with a former lover named Avram in the Galilean wilderness. It’s her way of protecting her son: if the notifiers can’t find her, she reasons, then Ofer won’t die.
In and of itself, To the End of the Land is a powerful indictment of the terrible cost war exacts from families, individuals and communities. But another level of tragedy underlies the narrative.
David Grossman, one of Israel’s most celebrated writers and an outspoken critic of his country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, had almost finished writing the novel when the doorbell of his home near Jerusalem rang in the middle of the night, and he learned his son Uri had been killed in southern Lebanon on the last day of Israel’s 2006 offensive against Hezbollah.
After sitting shiva, Grossman returned to his manuscript. “What changed, above all,” he writes in an afterword, “was the echo of the reality in which the final draft was written.”
Touching on every war Israel has fought since it was founded in 1948, the narrative, translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, largely unfolds in the mind of the main character, Ora. She is herself mired in conflict — with her conscience, with the choices she has made, with her country, even with her beloved yet headstrong son, Ofer. The hike through Galilee with the war-scarred Avram, whom she has loved since childhood and with whom she conceived Ofer, becomes a journey through a tangled wilderness of memory and history.
Grossman peers as deeply as he can into Ora’s soul and is determined to make us see what he sees: how war distorts relationships, defiles what is beautiful, corrupts what is just. But he also sees the transcendent power of humanity.
Which will prevail? The question Grossman asks of Ora is also a question he puts to Israel itself. Just as Ora must come to terms with her inner complexity, so an entire nation must undertake to discover what it has become. There are no easy answers or moral judgments awaiting at the end of the journey, only the gift of clear choices: peace or war, life or death.
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