Mariel's Reviews > To the End of the Land

To the End of the Land by David Grossman
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May 16, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: my-love-life
Recommended to Mariel by: she could have been a poet or she could have been a fool
Recommended for: the dream has gone but the baby is real
Read in May, 2012

(Sorry for the reposting and then taking down and then reposting. This book I feel I owe something to...)

You cannot point out a star to someone without putting your other hand on his shoulder.

David Grossman wrote To The End Of The Land while his second eldest son was serving in the military. He wrote the novel as if doing so would protect him. It didn't save his life. The quote from the New York Times Book Review on the cover says "One of those few novels that feels as though they have made a difference to the world." I don't know about what the world feels because I can only pick out some and the rest is a blinding mass of noise. It did to me. I feel at a great disadvantage here because I don't know if any book has ever meant this much to me. What hyperbole can I possibly say that is bigger than that? (I like that my friend Tuck's review says that TTEOTL is "absolutely necessary". If only I were so succint!) What are the true power of words? Can any thing redeem life or humanity? To The End Of The Land changed shadowy shapes in my eyes so many times before I had finished reading it. Is it a book about people who do try to redeem themselves through others or is it the shame of being human? The culpability that we all share for living. Sleeping at night while someone else is sent to die "for you" (so they say. I wouldn't ask it of Jesus or anyone else and still it happens). People in prison to stimulate the economy and trees felled to wipe our butts. You don't ask and the shit rolls down hill all the same. Hell, to have children in Israel where they very likely will die. Raising your kid to be their fodder. Israeli news that rejoices in martyrdom and if you cry for yourself as a mother you are not mother earth. The us versus them and the proverbial wool that people can and will pull over their own eyes to get through the day. The like a lie spinning out of control sides of the wire fence. Is it fair to get used to things? Grossman wrote this mother, Ora, who is doing what he is doing when writing his book: trying to save her son by telling about him through stories. She also represents some pretty callous things. She unthinkingly asks their Arab driver, Sami, to escort her and her son when she has to say goodbye to him on the front. Unthinkable! Yet she does it, because she thinks of him as her friend (and the ripped cord that she yanks on so blindly to get it back... Yet could I judge her? For not facing up to what shouldn't be?). Or is it in denial of the lives they lead? She may have lost her family because she couldn't accept that they have seemed to swallow (without a stick in the throat) the hard military life of Israel. The world where a man can be forgotten about in a meat cooler for two days. You're here to get bombed on instead of the civilians in town. But is she so different? How much has she changed from the young girl she is in the beginning of the book to the old woman (well, I didn't think of her as old, actually. She thinks of herself as old is the main thing) at a loss to lay down lamb to slaughter or is it lions to slaughter? I never can tell. When is tearing it all through your mind and all that really redemptive?

Ofer volunteers for an assignment after his three years of mandatory service are over. Every deal, charm, prayer and what have you have been used up. Ora runs to the hills for a hike so that, for at least one month, she will not know if her son is dead. Ofer's birth father, Avram, has lived as if there was no difference between life or death for twenty-two years after he was tortured as a prisoner of war. He refused to acknowledge the existence of his son. No word and no face, at least that he will admit to. There are tell tale signs of carved markings identifying his time served on the wall in the dump where he lives (although maybe not such a half life that he will admit to. He also gravitates towards those who will redeem his life for him with his young artist girlfriend and the free spirits in the restaurant and their glory tales of trips to India). Ora needs to bring her son to life for him so that Offer will be kept safe between them. If the worst happens there will be someone left in Israel who knows him. She needs to talk about her son to answer her own questions about if she really knew Ofer, or if she was an "unnatural mother" as her estranged eldest son, Adam, told her. Her husband, Avram's once best friend, has left the country with Adam. She broke the code by reminding them of what they cannot change? Was she in the wrong to expect that her son Ofer be the hero that others are not? To save the world for her?

Through their talks in the Galilee as they hike it is a mystery of stories making up a person for Avram and reassuring or enlightening for Ora. They were a family so he has to hear about all of them. The questions that he asks are hints to the relationship that Ora, Avram and Ilan had as teenagers, lovers and best friends. It is really incredible to me the way that Grossman brought these people out as a family just by how they talked about each other, what they didn't want to talk about and the doubts and joys. The guilt in if that was the right thing to do, or if maybe you're loved one was never as open with you as you had wanted. If it is too late to imagine it all now... (Yes, I have read other books about this recently. The Nephew by James Purdy, We Disappear by Scott Heim, and Garden, Ashes by Danilo Kis. I didn't even do it on purpose. I must have an uncanny knack for finding books about this. I am also scared of what is going to be too late and of losing a life to an untrustworthy memory. I'm afraid of carrying that torch alone.)

Once, when he used to look at her like that, she would immediately open herself to him, allowing him to see inside her like that. Not even Ilan. But she was always easy with Avram- such a horrible word, "easy"; she was always easy with Avram, letting him see all of her, almost from the first moment she met him, because she had a feeling, a conviction that there was something inside her, or someone, perhaps an Ora more loyal to her own essence, more precise and less vague, and Avram seemed to have a way to reach her. He was the only one who could truly know her and could pollinate her with his look, with his very existence, and without him she simply did not exist, she had no life, and so she was his, she was his prerogative.

Did Ilan try to be his lost friend and lose the part that was just himself when he gave up on life and he raised his son with Ora? The way that Ora never feels at ease in her motherhood, the moment of knowing the right thing to do never comes. She yells at them and there's four years when Ilan bails on Ora and Adam completely (before her son with Avram is born). Was she ever the Ora that Ilan and Avram loved? Before I decided not to read any reviews of TTEOTL (in case I felt too stupid to write my own review) I read a line that Ora was unlikeable. I thought David Grossman knew exactly what he was doing. Avram, too, is hard headed. Ilan forces himself to be on the line. Ora feels she cannot keep up in the witty discussions with the men (her sons included). My heart kind of tugged for her. She can only be herself, even if that self is someone she feels not up to it.

It might sound cheesey if I write about it in a review but what the hey.
This is the part when little Ofer becomes a vegetarian.
"And all at once his face sealed up, locked, like this" - she shows him, tightly clenching her fist- "and then he ran all the way down the hallway, from the bathroom to the kitchen, and kicked me. Just imagine, he'd never done that before! He kicked my leg as hard as he could and screamed: 'You're like wolves! People like wolves! I don't want to be with you!'"

He turns the other way around when he is sixteen. Ora wonders if he wasn't trying to become the opposite of who he once was, the skinny sensitive boy, in favor of masculine and meat. I like that we don't know for sure so much. Ora suspects. We get to see Ofer through her eyes and then a little through how Avram sees him from what she says. I think that's such a wonderful way of showing about people. You get to know so much about them that way. It's not just an author listing off some qualities like intelligent or mean or something. This hurt her. He turned his back on who she thought he was, as Avram asks? I wondered myself if maybe she didn't feel like he joined "sides" of the shitty humans and she regrets that. Oh, I love this. Ora says he allowed himself to be more sensitive with the girlfriend who would leave him. She feels they aren't soft with her. Maybe it isn't enough for her, I think, because she still can't accept herself. I see this in the way that she reveres their verbal back in forth, in her pining for a daughter to help them see her. Maybe she's doing it all wrong by trying to do it too much through them. I love that sooooo much. I wondered why Ilan REALLY couldn't stay with his family when Adam was born. Did he reject her as a mother, did Avram do the same? Why could he put them on the course of day to day regulation and learning how to live in the world while she felt helpless to do so? Ora never admits it but I felt it was because she couldn't bear to go about day to day when it would lead to the front lines. She was in the army herself and she never talks about it. She gives up on her social work because it had to have been pointless to her. She gives up to live through them.

Was it because of a story that Avram "gave" to Ilan to tell once he had lost "himself" in his prison tragedy? Parents leaving their newborns in the street, behind dumpsters, because they cannot handle the sorrow? In his story that he hadn't worked out people would have to figure out the exact meaning of everything that's happened to them. Avram didn't really know anything.

"Well, there is one big issue I haven't completely solved yet," Avram murmured to himself, focused and distracted at once. "Will people dismantle all the frameworks of their lives, like their families, or will they want to leave everything just like it is right up to the last minute? What do you say? I'm also wondering if people will start telling each other nothing but the truth, right to their faces, 'cause time's running out, you know? There's no time."

Or he did, there. The walking through the Galilee, on those trails that spoke in Arabic and in Hebrew (I don't know Hebrew so I wouldn't know the words. Maybe the sounds would mean something to me. All of that trying so hard and all of that refusing to listen)... It's the effort to think about it. I took away so much from this book that I could really beat myself up worrying about getting it all right (the part when Ora takes the bus for hours every day because the chance of a terrorist attack is how she can deal with her shame of letting down her family, in their eyes. Or is it also hers?). One thing that I think I really felt the most in the end was that you shouldn't try to redeem yourself through others all by yourself. The talking and walking and letting in the glimpses of old Avram and old Ora and new Avram and new Ora and bits and glimpses of their lives? It's freaking exhausting and too exhausted for them to try too hard to force it to have some meaning you were looking for it to have. Just remember Ofer and love him. What other kind of trust is there? I don't know. This is what I've got and I'm so grateful to have it. The rest of it I can't answer other than a sick feeling in my heart that no one ever asks for it and it happens anyway. I feel something in my gut like I could almost answer why Ofer didn't even want to read the news about Israel and yet would sink himself into their military culture. What other kinds of ignoring are there that Grossman could see?

I have been a big David Grossman fan since 2005. See Under: Love and Someone to Run With are two of my favorite books ever (I had fully formed fantasies that I carried with me for that last one). I used to give my brother copies of his books years ago. He never would read him (his girlfriend at the time took pity on me and read it. She said she liked him). Once upon a time he called up to say that he had worshipped Watership Down and it was at the same time I had independently fell in love with Watership Down and my twin sister had also independently fell in love with Watership Down. We'd call and say "You have to read this book..." It doesn't last. (I didn't even mention the relationship between the two brothers. How one follows the other in some things and the other in others. The personalness of it and yet it is still so relateable for all that I have never been a young man.) Families are freaking hard. I could go on and on about the small truths that touched me about this book. How my cousin is in the army and how surprised some of my family were when he was sent off to Afghanistan (where he is now) after they had encouraged it for his whole life. How disturbed I feel when I remember that he said he couldn't wait to go kill Arabs. David Grossman must have watched all of these families to know so much (and having his own family too. I have no words for how I feel about him writing this book to save his son and he dies). I don't doubt that he feels so much about what he sees. To The End Of The Land is like some long walk and stories about humanity to try to keep it alive and save it and maybe it isn't so bad and no this is totally fucked up and was any of it worth it? It's about how hard it is to really look and not get used to it...

I hope I managed to get some of it across how much I love this book. I don't know what this rambling review will mean to anyone else but damn this book is so precious to me. I never wanted to finish reading it. It's the kind of book that talks to me like I'm a real human being and the kind of book that I always wish other books were. And I didn't even get to read it in its original language. I wonder why so many of my special favorites are works in translations again... This is another life as translated book like through eyes of people around you. Jessica Cohen translated. She's translated some of the other Grossman novels that I've read (I've read a lot. I went on a big binge late 2005-early 2006 and I am not kidding about this).
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message 1: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Mariel wrote: "I'm not good enough to ever nail a book like this one. Accept it and move on, Mar. It's like defining someone you love who frustrates and confounds you. Not for the likes of me."

I disagree! I will formulate why when I am less full of negativity and self-doubt and alcohol. But you are great! And smart! And it is impossible to "nail" a really good work of any sort.

message 2: by Traveller (last edited May 15, 2012 11:57AM) (new) - added it

Traveller Whew, ok, another book onto that damn huge old pile. I'd better get off GR and start reading... :P

PS. Ok, I'll concede it. The long reviews have more in them. In your case, more good stuff.

Tuck like this reviewer says: is anybody listening?

The Nation
Published on The Nation (

Shelf Life
Eyal Press | December 4, 2012

A decade ago, a Palestinian farmer approached an Israeli soldier stationed in Qalqilya, a West Bank city located near the Green Line along the Israeli border, with an urgent appeal. The farmer’s land was about to be bulldozed to make way for Israel’s separation barrier, laying waste to his fig orchard. “I planted this grove for ten years, I waited ten years for it to bear fruit, I enjoyed it for one year, and now they’re uprooting it,” said the farmer, fighting back tears. The tears soon started flowing, not because the soldier was unsympathetic—watching the farmer break down as his trees were felled was “heartbreaking,” he later said—but because his orders were to protect the surveyors.

How degrading and demeaning has living under military occupation been to Palestinians such as that farmer? The testimonies collected in Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000–2010 (Metropolitan; $32), a volume of 145 interviews gathered by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, won’t tell you. What they will tell you, in grim and granular detail, is how degrading and demeaning upholding the occupation has been to Israelis. The book’s narrators are veterans of the Israel Defense Forces who were sent to serve in the occupied territories in the decade after the second intifada, ostensibly to prevent violent attacks by Palestinians. The wave of violence that engulfed Israel a decade ago was indeed calamitous, but anyone who thinks the IDF limits itself to confiscating weapons and punishing terrorists when patrolling the occupied territories would do well to consider what its own members say. “We go into the houses of innocent people. Every day, all the time,” says one soldier. Another describes tossing stun grenades into a village in the middle of the day, a policy known as “demonstrating a presence” that, according to the soldier, is often unconnected to a specific security threat and equally routine.

None of these soldiers are named, and many were interviewed only after they completed their military service, inviting the question of why, if they were so bothered by such things, they didn’t speak out and identify themselves at the time. One reason is that many weren’t bothered, owing to how habituated and anesthetized they became while carrying out orders. “I didn’t get that I was doing something wrong,” says a soldier whose unit set about wrecking the streets of a neighborhood one day by driving armored Hummers over cars, pulling out the passengers and beating them. “You could do whatever you like and no one asked any questions.” Another says he is most disturbed by “the things I have the privilege of doing on a daily basis and becoming immune to.”

Invading houses, harassing civilians, destroying private property, opening fire on unarmed targets: the blasé tone with which such acts are recounted chillingly conveys what wielding absolute power over a civilian population has done to an army that has long prided itself on its values. And yet that power is not quite absolute. There are limits, as when a soldier patrolling a neighborhood in Hebron spots a boy throwing a rock at another boy walking with his father. “If an Arab boy picked up a rock against a Jewish boy, then we’d probably have to handcuff him, blindfold him, send him wherever, follow the orders,” he says. But on this occasion, the soldier does nothing, since the perpetrator of the assault is a Jewish settler, whom he cannot threaten. “Look what they’re doing to us,” says the father of the Palestinian boy who was attacked. “Other than lower my head in shame, there’s nothing I can do,” the soldier says.

A decade ago, such a story might well have induced shame in most Israelis. This assumption is increasingly tenuous today. The Israeli left is small and deflated. Having watched Hamas gain power in the Gaza Strip and Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity in Israel soar, many Israeli moderates have grown apathetic and resigned. Other former moderates have drifted into the ranks of the Israeli right, whose most strident members view the colonization of the West Bank with pride. If their dream of annexing this territory is realized, 69 percent of Jewish Israelis would deny granting Palestinians voting rights, according to a recent survey conducted by Dialog, and 74 percent would support separate roads for Jews—in effect, an apartheid system. Right-wing views increasingly pervade the IDF, where soldiers raised in settlements and educated in yeshivas dominate many of the units in the territories.

As Our Harsh Logic shows, the idea that there is nothing wrong with ruling permanently over millions of people deprived of basic rights is not universally shared in Israel. The book also shows the impressive freedom Israelis have to speak out about things their government would prefer to keep hushed. Yet here, too, there are worrisome signs. Like many Israeli human rights organizations, Breaking the Silence, founded in 2004, has seen the political climate turn increasingly inhospitable. In 2009, after the group published a book of controversial testimonies on Operation Cast Lead—a three-week invasion of the Gaza Strip that began in December 2008—Israel’s Foreign Ministry called on Spain, the Netherlands and other foreign governments to cut off funding for the organization. “There is no silence to break,” complained Netanyahu. “What are they talking about?”

Yet if this book is any indication, the biggest challenge Breaking the Silence faces today is not finding soldiers who will speak out or keeping itself financially afloat; it is being heard. The act of bearing witness can make an impact only if there is an audience, after all. What the soldiers in Our Harsh Logic are talking about is a morally untenable situation that has gone on for forty-five years. They have come forward to rouse the conscience of their fellow citizens. But is anybody listening?

Don’t miss our podcast interview [1] with Breaking the Silence founder Yahuda Shaul.
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message 4: by Arnie (new) - added it

Arnie Excellent review. I've been meaning to read this and See: Under Love for a long time.

Elliot Davidson This is an amazing review. Thank you for taking so much time. I read this book mostly on the strength of your review. I'm a non-fiction guy and have trouble with novels often as it does not seem real. This book seems real as the characters are so well developed and interesting, I want to know what happens to them.

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