This novel, which every parent without exception, almost I would say everyone, should read, begins with three young people in an isolation hospital somewhere. Ora, the young girl, is alone in her ward and is joined by Avram, it takes them a few days to relax in each other’s company, but the fascination, the wordplay and the wonder do begin there; one day Avram arrives with another boy Ilan, one who is much sicker than either of them, and from this encounter the novel spools out into this wonderful and poignant story of a deep friendship, and a family life that has a unique fracture line down its centre.
One needs to know here, that everyone born in Israel is compelled to do three years of National Service, which is not merely square bashing and potato peeling, but active duty because this is Israel. So every parent [in the book Ilan and Ora have become parents – two boys Adam and Ofer -] waits for three years to know whether their children are coming home, whole or maimed, or not at all.
In the second section, Ofer has returned safely after his three years and he and Ora are going to walk in The Galilee together, but on the night of their departure, Ofer volunteers to go back to the campaign (which part of the struggle for territory we are not invited to know) but clearly it is a situation.
Ora takes him to the meeting place, with an Arab driver – a senseless, ill-considered and tactless choice – and all the way on the drive one can feel the tension inherent in this relationship: Ora and Sami the driver, Ofer furious at her stupidity; Ora struggling with her culpability at what she has done to Sami, and her dismay at what she sees as Ofer’s rejection; and also with anxiety about Ofer who is going into the danger zone.
Somehow, from deep within her maternal terror, Ora conceives the notion that if she completes the walk in The Galilee, then Ofer will be safe. Ilan is in South America with the other son, for reasons which we will discover. So she begs Avram to walk with her.
And with them we go on this sublime walk, full of detail. Thus Ora weaves a mental safety net around Ofer with words, as she describes Ofer, her family life, her feelings – nothing is left out. We are drawn into the very fabric of their lives; the earth beneath their feet, the trees, insects, animals they encounter on the walk; and through their conversation the reasons behind everything that has happened between them. Sometimes in straightforward narration, sometimes in the minds of Ora and Avram, sometimes in what she tells Avram or he her, and so we cross the land with them…
If you already know David Grossman’s writing this book will be no revelation to you, and you will read it and probably live with it in your mind for weeks. If you have never read anything yet, you are going to discover a wonderful author, a superlative wordsmith and hopefully will go on to read other books by the same author, fiction and non-fiction. David Grossman began this book in 2003, in 2006 his own son Uri died with his tank crew in the Second Lebanon war when his tank was destroyed as they went to assist the crew of another tank which was under attack, and Grossman went back and finished this book which was published in translation in 2010.