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Sadness Is a White Bird

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,264 ratings  ·  257 reviews
In this lyrical and searing debut novel written by a rising literary star and MacDowell Fellow, a young man is preparing to serve in the Israeli army while also trying to reconcile his close relationship to two Palestinian siblings with his deeply ingrained loyalties to family and country.

The story begins in an Israeli military jail, where — four days after his nineteenth
Hardcover, 275 pages
Published February 13th 2018 by Atria Books
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Average rating 4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,264 ratings  ·  257 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary! I had started this book 2 days ago...a day after having surgery....loved it immediately...but between lots of extra sleep - it wasn’t until today, when I read most of it in a final sweep sitting. For those whom I owe messages to - forgive me — this novel became impossible to put down.

We know Jonathan is in an Israeli military jail at the start of this novel.....
This story absolutely takes your breath away - so incredibly well written -
Many of my own memories came rushing back to
Diane S ☔
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Once in a while if we as readers are lucky, pick up a book that effects us profoundly. For me, it was this book, I kept putting it down, to think about what I was reading, and yes even to let my emotions level out. The subject is a complicated one, Jewish and Arab relations in Isreal, but the author gives us a personal viewpoint, using three friends, two Arab, one Jewish. When the book opens, Jonathan sits in a jail, he is our narrator and their story is revealed as Jonathan writes to his Arab f ...more
Larry H
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Oh, wow, this book was so gorgeous and moving and amazing! (Sorry I'm not more enthusiastic about it.)

Jonathan has just turned 19 and is serving in the Israeli army, a responsibility he has taken very seriously. Yet when Sadness is a White Bird begins, Jonathan is in a military prison, telling his story as a letter of sorts to one of his best friends. But how did someone so eager to serve his country wind up in prison, doubting whether military action against the Arabs is the right thing to
Angela M
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

When I started to read this story about a young Israeli man who develops a close relationship with a Palestinian brother and sister, it reminded me of a book I read this year, All the Rivers . That one is about an Israeli woman and Palestinian young man who are living in New York and fall in love . Both of these books reflect on the difficulty of deeply emotional relationships charged with the current political and historical reality of the conflict. This beautifully written story begins with Jo

When we’re young, we see all the things we want to change, believing those changes to be easy to accomplish. We find, define our own idea of beauty, we find, define the idea of what we want our “home” to be like, to feel like, a place where our values are part of our lives, our days, where we find acceptance of those values among those we love. Living in harmony. Finding forgiveness from others, from ourselves – hopefully, ultimately – for those we’ve hurt, offended. If we’re
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-east
This one was super intense; emotionally conflicting and one story I soon won't forget.

The story begins with Jonathan in jail and reflecting on his great love for his friends Nimreen and Laith. Brother and sister. Jonathan is completing his final year of highschool in Israel when he meets them. He develops a complicated relationship with them - he being Jewish; they being Arab.

There is no doubt a political angle to this book but it's interesting given the limited history I have of the strife tha
4 hearty stars!

Okay. So apparently I’m a person who holds a grudge. I realize a grudge makes me pretty huffy and grumpy, so I was sitting there annoyed as hell at the situation—mad at both the book and my snit. Grudges are uncool and they can ruin things.

I was dying to read this book, as my friends had chirped and chirped about it, flying around my To Be Read shelf, persuading me to grab this one next. “Oh goodie!” I chirped back. I’m on it.

And right away, the lyrical language, the intriguing
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
4 lyrically dark stars to Sadness Is a White Bird! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Jonathan is 19 years old and preparing to serve in the Israeli army when he befriends Palestinian twins, Laith and Nimreen. As the story begins, Jonathan is in jail, and his story is told through letters to Laith. The second person narrative was refreshing.

Through Jonathan’s friendship with Laith and Nimreen, he begins a journey of self-discovery and coming-of-age where his emotions give rise to conflict within him about serving in
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
A very enthusiastic 5 stars!!! This will definitely be one of my favourite novels this year. Sadness Is a White Bird is set in Israel and starts in an jail where 19 year old Jonathan is being detained. Jonathan tells his own story in the form of a lyrical narrative told to his friend Laith. Jonathan is Jewish and Laith is Palestinian. With this premise, this novel does everything a good novel is supposed to do:

-I loved how Rothman-Zecher tackles such a fraught political and historical context he
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
A solid satisfying, richly empathetic, deeply unsettling but gorgeous nonetheless 3.5 stars.

We all have some vague distant knowledge about the 'middle east' problem but in this book, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes to life in with its devastating tale of friendship and tragedy.

We have our protagonist and narrator, Jonathan, who has returned to Israel from America in his late teens. He looks forward to joining the Israel Defense Force, in part to honor his freedom, fighter grandfather. His
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story of a friendship between a young Jewish man named Jonathan and Arab twins Laith and Nimreen, are tested by the conflict that will never end between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.
Jonathan, who will be going into the armed service for Israel, and later when he is actually in service, struggles with what his duties will be and what he himself thinks is morally correct.
Sad, intense, passionate and poetic.
Susanne  Strong
3.5 Stars* (rounded down)

Jonathan is 19 years old, when, at the start of the novel, he is incarcerated in an military prison, for what we do not know. Writing letters to someone named Laith, pouring his heart out. And so it begins.

Jonathan returns to Israel with his family after having lived abroad, specifically so that he can serve his Country. Unexpected he makes fast friends with two Palestinian twins: Nimreen and Laith - and the three become inseparable. This friendship, it conflicts with h
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
A political agenda wrapped in affecting imagery and a lyrical narrative.

I wish that I had loved this as much as so many of my friends here, but my reading was hindered by a niggling feeling that I could not shake. More on that in a minute. I was initially frustrated at the inclusion of Arabic and Hebrew phrases I could not understand, words that pulled me out of the storyline like speed bumps, but eventually I became accustomed and I was invested in this fervent, coming of age story set amid
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have so many feelings swimming through me after finishing this novel. It is a heavy subject that will garner strong feelings. I thought Johnathan’s narrative worked perfectly in allowing the reader to feel firsthand the experience of this conflict on those living through it. The dialogue was very distracting in the beginning with the constant translating but evened out as it went along.

I do understand that as impartial as an author strives to be it’s still a difficult task. The bias are diffi
Moriel Rothman-Zecher is also a poet as well as a novelist, and that comes through loud and clear in ‘Sadness Is A White Bird.’ His prose flows liquid and mellifluous, enveloping me in Jonathan’s world. Jonathan lived with his parents in the US for several years but always wanted to return ‘home,’ and become a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at age eighteen. When his maternal grandfather, a Salonican Jew, becomes sick, Jonathan’s family returns to Israel. Unexpectedly, he meets Pales ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Available on Hoopla.

Wars are everywhere in the history books, but we are lucky these days that it seldom touches us on our own soil, as it still does in Israel. My first generation American-born grandfather had first and second cousins his age in Germany, yet he often recounted to 9 year old me how he was sent there in 1917 to "shoot at" his "own relatives." For him to tell me those stories repeatedly, it must have weighed heavily on his mind; and I have never forgotten how confused i
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lyrical debut novel about an Israeli teenager, Yonatan, who befriends Palestinian twins Laith and Nimreen just prior to his entering the draft to defend the occupied Palestinian territories. The trio share a brief but intense friendship that is complicated by the bitter divide between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The author has a decided viewpoint here, but that's his prerogative and it didn't detract (for me) from the story or the sheer strength and beauty of his writing. I loved all of the char
Karen R
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A powerful and exceptional story told from 19-year old Jonathan’s perspective, a young man preparing to serve in the Israeli army, yet sitting in a jail cell with plenty of time for contemplation and reflection. His letters and journaling are expertly written by Author Rothman-Zecher. Heartbreaking and stunning are the first words that come to mind. They capture the spirit, thoughts and feelings of this young man from 2 years past to present, the Palestinian-Israali conflict and the effect it ha ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jonathan, at 19, is the narrator of this novel, told in letters written to his friend Laith from military prison in Israel.

This novel is about the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, but on a much more personal level. It is about family and family history, and how that molds our path. It is about friendship and the barriers that arise, how far intimacy can go when it confronts your identity. I found it overall to be just a bit too long, but enjoyed the read.

Jonathan moved with his family
Carmel Hanes
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a sad book, depicting the lives of several young people caught between political/social expectations and influence, and the relationships they form before those expectations take over their lives. There's a Brene Brown quote (which I can't find currently in order to do justice to it) which talks about "moving in" closer to those we fear, distrust, or don't understand as a way to see them as more like ourselves, to improve the connection, acceptance, and understanding between us. I was re ...more
Stephanie Anze
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Jonathan has just turned nineteen but as he sits in an Israeli military prison, he reminices as to how he got there. He speaks to his friend Laith through letters and flashbacks. Jonathan grew up in the United States but moved back to Israel to finish high school and then become part of the IDF (the Israeli Defence Forces). In the interim between highschool and the army, Jonathan meets Laith and his twin sister Nimreem, of Palestian origin. The three of them become close friends, spending almost ...more
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley, 2017
Sadness is a White Bird is a beautiful and sad story of Jonathan, who is in a military jail in Israel. Much of the book is addressed to Laith and serves as a letter of love/apology to Laith and his twin sister, Nimreen. Prior to joining the Israeli army, Jonathan befriends Laith and Nimreen, who are Palestinians; his new friends lead to a great conflict for Jonathan, who has always identified prominently as a Jewish man and Israeli.

He finds himself torn between a) his love for his family, his f
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This was a really gorgeous book with great narration. A young man leaves America to return to Israel for his military service. Before enlisting, he meets Palestinian brother/sister twins and develops a deep friendship with them both. As he learns their family history, he starts to feel conflicted about his upcoming military service. The narrative starts with him in a military jail, then flashes back to the time leading up to his arrest.
The issues are complex. His desire to help his family and t
Kimberly Edge
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An incredible piece of literature that I recommend everyone read, immediately!! The words on every page pulled at my heartstrings and I hated to say goodbye to these characters upon finishing. One of my top 2017 reads for sure. Highly recommend!! ALL THE STARS!
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Edit: After just reading another book about war right after (different country/time period), I am upping the rating to 4.5* as I can’t stop thinking about it.

I’m torn between 4 and 4.5*. Some areas of this book were astoundingly beautifully written and heartbreaking. Definitely a debut author to watch.
This is a politically and morally driven look at both sides of the Arab-Israeli issue via a coming of age story. I’m guessing some may be drawn from the authors own experiences as he also refused t
J Verne
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This gorgeous novel broke my heart again and again. SADNESS IS A WHITE BIRD asks so many questions, questions that are perhaps unanswerable--what does it mean to be a good person? what does it mean to be a good citizen? What does it mean to be a good friend?--against the back drop of the Israeli occupation. This novel shows the way history is intertwined with the present and voices the complexities of the human experience in a way that only fiction can do, and only the most lyrical and beautiful ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm so happy that I picked up this ARC! I loved every minute of it. Rothman-Zecher's story is a morally complex one that eschews easy answers, choosing instead to focus on a group of unlikely friends trying to find a third path in a polarized culture.

Jonathan, an Israeli-American teenager, is a dyed in the wool Zionist. His family suffered great loss in the Holocaust and, as a result, he is super committed to the project of Israel. After spending most of his life stateside, Jonathan's family re
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recent-reads
This is a story about the conflict between Palestine and Israel, but it is told through the lens of three friends: Jonathan (American bred, but Israeli born) and siblings - Nimreem and Laith (twins).

Jonathan moves from Pennsylvania to his home country of Israel. He was born there, but raised in America after his Israeli mother wanted to leave the country. Jonathan returns as a teenager to serve in the military and fight to preserve the Jewish state his grandfather help found. But all of this isn
Apr 16, 2020 rated it liked it
19-year Jonathan returns to Israel from the U.S. to serve in the Israel Defense Force, in part to honor his grandfather and in part, his Jewish identity. Through his family, he meets the son and daughter of a Palestinian friend, and becomes very friendly with the twins, spending as much as his free time as possible with Laith and Nimreen, eventually becoming intimate with both. Their cross cultural friendship is refreshing. But, of course, the long-standing conflict between the Israelis and Pale ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very poetic and nostalgic writing.
Sadness is indeed a white bird. It's light, it has wings to fly, but watching her flying makes one sad, as you never know if it's the last flight, if she ever returns...
Countless amounts of books have been written on Palestinian and Israeli conflict, and neither side wants to give in.
But if you scratch the politics off the surface and blow the sand of times away, beneath it all always lies one thing, and it's human life and love.

The story of Jonathan, like so m
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Moriel Rothman-Zecher is the author of the novel Sadness Is a White Bird, which was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the National Jewish Book Award, and the winner of the Ohioana Book Award, among other honors. He is the recipient of the National Book Foundation '5 Under 35' honor, two MacDowell Colony Fellowships for Literature, and a Wallis Annenberg Helix Fellowship for Yiddis ...more

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