K's Reviews > פרשת גבריאל תירוש

פרשת גבריאל תירוש by Isaac Shalev
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Apr 14, 2010

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bookshelves: hebrew, historicalfiction

In Parshat Gavriel Tirosh, a historical novel of pre-independence Israel, Gavriel Tirosh is a larger-than-life young history teacher for a class of eleventh graders. Gavriel recruits a select few of his eleventh grade students to join the cause of winning Israel’s independence by fighting the local Arabs and making life difficult for the ruling British. The story’s nameless narrator is one of these recruits, a bit less war-like and more reluctant than his cohorts. His reluctance is shared by the only female recruit, Ayah, on whom the narrator has a deep and abiding unrequited crush. Ayah, for her part, has a deep and abiding unrequited crush on Gavriel which is what keeps her in the group despite her own misgivings.

The historical context of the story was quite interesting to me. Unfortunately, the story itself fell flat. I don’t know how much of this to blame on the Hebrew (which was a bit more difficult than in some of the other Hebrew books I’ve been reading) as opposed to the actual quality of the writing, but I felt distanced from the characters and their conflicts. While I understood intellectually what the narrator was going through and how hard it was, I had difficulty feeling it and empathizing with it.

I couldn’t really understand Ayah’s appeal to the narrator other than her apparent beauty, and why he would continue loving her so deeply when it becomes increasingly obvious that she views him as a friend and nothing more. My friends in the Hebrew book club claimed that this was developmentally consistent with being 16 years old and maybe it was. That might be why I’m really not a YA reader. My patience for this kind of dead-end, unrequited hopeless love as a major plot point is limited, especially when the relationship itself just doesn’t seem all that deep or complex.

While I did feel more empathetic with the narrator’s reluctance about participating in the group’s guerilla warfare activities, I still didn’t find that this dilemma touched me as deeply as it might have. I also thought that the character of Gavriel and the students’ relationship with him could have been fleshed out more fully and complexly. The concept of the charismatic teacher dazzling his students and having a disproportionate influence on them can be fascinating; in the story, though, it just kind of happened and everyone went along with it. The issue remained more or less unexamined; the focus was mainly on the group’s activities and on the narrator’s undying love for Ayah.

I will say that this was definitely an improvement over many of the other plotless wonders we’ve had to read for the Hebrew book club in that there was actually a story here, even if the story wasn’t particularly compelling in its own right.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 14, 2010 – Shelved
April 14, 2010 – Shelved as: hebrew
April 14, 2010 – Shelved as: historicalfiction
April 21, 2010 –
page 54
22.41% "So far this is better than the past two Hebrew books I've read. Which is not saying a lot. But I'm grateful for the improvement."
May 2, 2010 –
page 123
51.04% "More interesting for its historical context than for its plot or characters, but still a less torturous read than the previous Hebrew books."

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