A Jewish man and his Palestinian wife brace for the impact of the Yom Kippur War in this final volume of Gershowitz’s (Heirs of Eden, 2013, etc.) trilogy.
Noah Greenspan and Alexandra Salaman met in their youth and fell in love despite the cultural divide that separated them—he’s a Jewish American, and she’s originally from Palestine. Now, in 1973, the acrimony between Middle Eastern Arab nations and Israel reaches a boiling point as Egypt and Syria jointly attack the latter in the hopes of gaining control over the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Alexandra, a prominent journalist for the Washington Evening Star, struggles to cover the war objectively, mindful of the ways in which her personal background will influence her readers, who will be looking for hints of bias or betrayal: “I’ve bent over backwards to maintain credibility with those on both sides of the Middle East conflict,” she tells Noah at one point. “We were displaced Palestinians, but I owe my life to the Israelis. For God’s sake, our son, Amos, is named after an Israeli.” Meanwhile, Noah, who’s serving as the chairman of the prominent Jewish Council of Greater Washington, is called upon by Democratic U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state to help pressure President Richard Nixon’s administration to more aggressively support Israel. Meanwhile, a Palestinian terrorist, Omar Samir, who harbors seething resentment toward Alexandra for what he perceives as treachery against her own people, plots to kidnap her 5-year-old son, Amos—who’s named after the aforementioned Mossad agent who once saved her life. Gershowitz intelligently brings the tumult of the 1973 setting to life, not only capturing the geopolitical tension that roiled the world, but also the complex, specific intramural politics of the United States, Israel, and Egypt. He’s at the top of his game, though, when he portrays the emotional strain that the war puts on Noah and Alexandra’s otherwise happy marriage. She’s shown to be particularly torn, as she’s genuinely devoted to her beleaguered people, but also mindful of the depredations that Israel suffers. The author handles her torment with impressive aplomb while also offering a model of political writing that avoids even a whiff of ideological grandstanding. That said, Gershowitz’s prose can be disappointingly anodyne, often swinging between bland clarity and breathless melodrama. This is particularly true of the dialogue, which manages to be emotionally overwrought and stiltedly earnest at the same time. In response to Alexandra’s unexpected job offer, for example, a journalist responds: “Look, I know I’m just a good Christian girl from Mississippi County, Arkansas, who goes to church on Sundays and the movies on Saturdays, and prays to Jesus every night, and I ain’t travelled hardly anywhere, but, Alexandra...you’re not fucking with me, are you?” Also, the author simply tries to cram too many events into the novel, making it seem dramatically overextended and longer than it should be; for instance, a subplot that revolves around Noah’s business troubles is simply gratuitous.
A thoughtful historical novel that’s often hampered by uninspired prose.