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Dinner at the Center of the Earth

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  1,970 ratings  ·  313 reviews
A prisoner in a secret cell. The guard who has watched over him a dozen years. An American waitress in Paris. A young Palestinian man in Berlin who strikes up an odd friendship with a wealthy Canadian businessman. And The General, Israel's most controversial leader, who lies dying in a hospital, the only man who knows of the prisoner's existence.

From these vastly different
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Lucia Have you read or heard interviews in which Mr. Englander objects to being referred to as Jewish American. If Mr. Englander does not object to being…moreHave you read or heard interviews in which Mr. Englander objects to being referred to as Jewish American. If Mr. Englander does not object to being referred to as Jewish American in the blurbs, perhaps he sees being both Jewish and American as basic to who his is -- to his core own identity -- and not something to be hidden or ignored.

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3.65  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,970 ratings  ·  313 reviews

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Modern day Israel can sometimes feel like a recent bruise. It can hurt to brush up against it. Occasionally someone with experience in the region writes a new melody that is both beautiful and plaintive, and perhaps the saddest sound ever heard, a sound from the other side of a wall.

Englander’s new novel might be that new music, filled with regret for the wasted time and wasted lives, for what could have been, and what has not come to be. He points out that the time to settle state issues have c
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Quite a story to read during 10 days mostly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem helping Palestinians with their olive harvest and seeing and hearing the truth of their plight. The book mimics the crazed paranoia and equally crazed reality/surreality of the Israel-Palestine situation. I was told if the bag checkers in Tel Aviv saw what could be considered an anti-Israel book I'd be given a score that wouldn't allow me back if I choose to come, so I gave it to an American Lutheran minister who hel ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A stupendous novel about global awareness. Or rather, the lack thereof.

These stories of individuals stuck in limbo (one of them is literally THERE!) and are betrayed or loved, or themselves betray or hate, are infinitely alive. The merging of different factions is like a series of battle royale vignettes, each with its own singular effect. Summed together, it's all the theme of war causing rifts through the years, and in this case, destroying poor lives. Englander opens our eyes in his very frug
Roman Clodia
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
"Should we not, then, just meet in the middle?"
"Yes," she says. "In the middle of our middle. In the centre of the earth."

What a frustrating book this is! - frustrating because it could, and should, have been more coherent and integrated. Englander contemplates the complications of Israel in fine fashion but it's difficult to get hold of a narrative thread to navigate the book.

In an uneasily fractured narrative (and is anyone else yearning for a straightforward story, starts at the beginning,
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Dinner at the Center of the Earth shifts about in time (2002-2014) and place - Paris, Berlin, Italy, Israel, Gaza. I had no idea where this novel was going so I just surrendered to the pages - hoping the fractured narrative strands would come together. Englander writes clear, funny, wonderful prose that is a pleasure to read. Even though I liked this novel very much, it left me wishing for a resolution. But that would be a different novel. Englander doesn't lead the reader to any answers - he ju ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a collection of characters as puzzle pieces, surrounding a series of events in the Middle East. Fair warning: the reader needs to do some work to understand how the pieces fit. I liked the air of heightened reality but how it was also not written as a thriller.

I received this as a review copy.
Jennifer Blankfein
Dinner at the Center of the Earth is a thriller and a love story, told by brilliant best selling author Nathan Englander. A Long Island, Jewish American man is a spy for Israel, becomes a traitor, and ends up in a one man prison in the Negev desert with his guard for a dozen years. We learn all that leads up to the imprisonment, the emotional rollercoaster he experiences with his love for his country, a beautiful relationship with a Palestinian woman and a tricky friendship with a boating compan ...more
Maayan K
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The summer of 2014 that I spent in Israel is an indelible period in my life. This book, set in that exact window, took me back to it with a sense of intense familiarity. Englander writes Israel as few people can, both an insider and outsider. He lived there for a decade in the 90s before returning to the US and speaks fluent Hebrew. The specificity of his descriptions show his love for the land and its people. At the same time, the schizophrenic form of the novel and the collection of its differ ...more
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
just couldn't get into this book maybe re read it at a later date
Bruce Katz
Jul 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
3.75, really, because Englander is incapable of writing anything mediocre. However, while I found myself turning the [digital] pages with interest, I never truly engaged with the book, at least not emotionally. Intellectually, though...
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great to see Englander eschewing the tempting pretentiousness of the 'literary' novel and going for a straight-up John Le Carré style thriller. Of course, it still is Nathan Engalnder so it's chock full of complex layers and beautiful writing but, damn, is it a fun ride! Coming from Australia, there is a weird sense of familiarity and discomfort as Prisoner Z's fate closely mirrors that of the infamous Prisoner X story - a young Australian former Mossad agent kept in secret solitary and ultimate ...more
Joe Kraus
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jewish-american
So, nu, how do we find peace in the Middle East?

One answer, at least as Nathan Englander imagines it in this generally masterful novel, is Ariel Sharon’s. “The General,” as we meet him here, never backed down. With him it was always about killing a dozen of them for every one of ours. When the PLO killed a mother and her children in a cross-border raid, he leveled an entire village.

With him, it is always go forward, but there is an end – at least as Ruth, his long-time aide, believes. She sees
Daniel Sevitt
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
I thought this was very fine. Perhaps the most Israeli novel I have ever read, combining a deep love of the country with real ambivalence for the things such love demands of its people. It's a bold narrative choice to write a number of chapters from the POV of Ariel Sharon... while he was in permanent vegetative state, but that's just the kind of book this is. Probably not for everyone, but very definitely for me.
Jeanine Wold
I wanted to like this book way more than I did in the end. The plot sounds so intriguing: a prisoner being kept at a black site, his only friend a guard, and his only hope of survival an Israeli general who is in a coma. Other supporting stories add to the chaos of the heated conflict between Israel and Palestine. The story jumps around tons, both between perspectives and time periods. From before the capture of Prisoner Z, when he strikes up a fierce romance with an Italian woman in Paris, to b ...more
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Let me be clear right from the start that Nathan Englander is a mediocre writer. His descriptions, admittedly contrary to his dialogue, lack in authenticity - it is truly a pity as Israel is a feast of impressions. From the smell of pine trees and the taste of the dry desert air to the soft evening glow spearing across what seem as the never ending planes of the Negev. The same goes for Paris and Berlin, but Englander does not explore his setting there either - not even the "landscape of the min ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to give this 4 stars but the final third really let it down. Review to come soon in The Big Issue.
Sid Nuncius
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very nearly gave up half way through this book, but I'm glad I didn’t. The first half is slow, mannered and rather uninteresting but it does become quite a gripping and thought-provoking read.

This is really a book about the Israel-Palestine conflict and how it really affects some individuals involved. It's a complex structure in which three seemingly unrelated narratives, separated in place and time, intercut with each other. For almost half the book I found this unengaging and frankly quite i
Boris Feldman
The blurbocracy embraces this book as if it were the second coming of ... of ... Nathan Englander! It ain't.
Think of this not as a novel, but as a series of interrelated short stories. Given Natan's career trajectory, it's becoming clear that he's a good short-story-teller, but not really a novelist. He develops scenes.
I wavered between 3 and 4 on the rating and decided to round up because we're in the month of Elul.

Update. Having passed Rosh Hashana, I rounded down to 3.
Greg Zimmerman
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Deceptively complex. Smart. Entertaining. It takes a minute to find its rhythm, but when it does it's hard to put down.
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
The fractured narrative doesn't quite cohere, but the book explores some interesting themes and questions and Englander is a great writer. I did wonder why all the female characters had names (Shira, Ruth), and all the male characters did not (Z, the Guard, the General). Seemed like a weird gendered choice that didn't say anything in particular.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.

“Maybe our horrible, self-destructive peoples, maybe our brave soldiers always looking to die, maybe tonight they’ll all finally kill each other and see this conflict done.”

Centering around Prisoner Z, and how he came to be in a dank hole of a prison, guarded by a man who is his only friend in the world - if he can be considered that - who himself is the son of a woman who has always looked after her boss, a general who is now in a coma having fever dreams of the wars he has fought and
Patty Shlonsky
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Dinner At The Center of The Earth” is an Israeli spy novel about the ever changing world of politics, loyalty and love. The story shifts back and forth through time and takes place in Israel, Paris, Berlin and indirectly in America from 2002-2014.

The novel begins with an introduction to Prisoner Z and his guard. Prisoner Z, an American Israeli spy, is in a prison in the middle of the Negev desert. His guard is a spoiled mama’s boy, whose mother is the close assistant to “the General” and forme
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
As I read this novel, I was often reminded of the first season of the t.v. series "Homeland" and its Israeli prototype, "Prisoners of War." An idealistic Jewish American emigrates to Israeli and is recruited by the Mosad, but he is soon shocked by the brutality of his work, especially the collateral damage to civilians. He makes the mistake of trying to cut a deal on his own with a Palestinian operative in the forlorn hope that it will help to end the violence. Regarded as a traitor by the Gener ...more
Claudia Putnam
The only other Englander I've read is the awesome short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. Awesome, that is, till we get to the end, when the mallet comes down and The Point is smashed into us. This book, too, is heavy-handed, in spite of Englander's trying to trick us into opacity with all the fragmentation and jumping around: Israel is a mess. So is Palestine. They're all fanatics. Even when one enlightened leader proposes a reasonable compromise it's blown. When another o ...more
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
this was a 3.5 read for me
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
The tale meanders from Israel to Gaza to the Negev and touches on Europe. At the heart is the question of loyalty to one’s country, to the human race, or to undying romantic love. Spies abound, playing a serious game of bringing traitors to justice. As in real life, peace beckons, but finally gives way to endless war.
Moshe Mikanovsky
The story of which this novel takes its name from, “Dinner in the middle of earth” feels as unconnected and irrelevant to the rest of the book, and appears only at the very end of it. Probably was written as a short story and than somehow got stuck together with a not so great anonymous spy story and some snippets from Ariel Sharon’s life, never mentioned by name but only by “The General”. Nothing is glued together very well.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have to admit I was expecting something entirely different going into this novel that delves into the war and peace process between the States of Israel and Palestine which turned out to be, at times, tongue in cheek funny.
You have all of the ingredients here for a spy thriller with espionage and counter espionage, multiple time periods primarily 2002 and 2014, which the author deftly switches back and forth to weave a narrative of a disappeared prisoner z being held in a black site and the on
miss.mesmerized mesmerized
Berlin 2002. A young Palestinian helps out a Canadian businessman to sail on one of the lakes. The more often they meet, the more intimate they get. Paris, the same year. Prisoner Z falls in love with a waitress. A young woman who turns out to be a super-rich daughter with unlimited opportunities. Israel 2014. The General is in hospital, dying, it is just a question of time until he passes away. The same year, the same country, but in a secret prison cell. Prisoner Z sets all his hopes on the Ge ...more
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
If it wasn't for the weird structure and an unnecessary tacked on romance at the end, I would have loved this book a lot more. But I liked everything about the complex relationship between the states of Israel and Palestine. I even liked the hapless Prisoner Z, the reason he's in the situation he is, and the resolution to his story, which the story is building up to all along. The guard, his mother Ruthie, the general Ariel Sharon - they're all well written.

I wouldn't even have a problem with t
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Nathan Englander is a Jewish-American author born in Long Island, NY in 1970. He wrote the short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in 1999. The volume won widespread critical acclaim, earning Englander the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize, and established him as an important write ...more
“You rented an apartment with its own escape route?” “I did,” Z says. “It’s not so paranoid when you use it to do just that.” 1 likes
“If Z had only known in his perfectly lovely two rooms in Paris what he'd come to know in his single 6x8 block somewhere, he guessed, just outside Tel Aviv. If he'd had an inkling in that breezy French apartment of what true boredom felt like and true loneliness, and true limbo - what it might actually be like to be locked up, hidden away without hope. If he'd tasted real madness at that point, he'd not have decided that he was so bored and so crazy that, without TV or Radio or a suitably advanced French, that, at the very least, he deserved a taste of the night air and something decent to read, and maybe, if the shop was still open, a decent bottle of wine.” 1 likes
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