AMBIVALENCE by Jonathan Garfinkel
Kirkus Star


Adventures in Israel and Palestine
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Canadian playwright and poet Garfinkel (Glass Psalms, 2005, etc.) considers the quandary of Zionism in this account of his travels in Israel and Palestine.

Planning a trip to Israel with his devout Jewish girlfriend, the author happened to meet a Palestinian immigrant whose descriptions of her harsh life in Jerusalem contradicted the rosy pictures painted by his teachers at Bialik Hebrew Day School. But she also told him of a house in Jerusalem shared by its original Palestinian owner and a Jewish couple who moved in after the Six Day War. The house suggested a model for coexistence to Garfinkel, who decided to write a play about it and headed for Israel alone; he felt he needed to find out the truth about the occupation for himself. That journey permanently changed his relationship to his religion and his past. Describing his two trips to the Holy Land in the mid-’90s, the author provides a stirring portrait of day-to-day life in modern Jerusalem. Garfinkel’s courage and curiosity led him far beyond the typical tourist’s itinerary, into adventures as exciting and heartbreaking as anything found in a work of fiction. Crossing back and forth through the checkpoints, he witnessed suffering, violence and acrimony intermixed with fierce friendship, generosity and the widespread thirst for normalcy. Intense ambivalence suffuses this aptly titled book. Garfinkel exhibits genuine respect for both sides of the conflict, but resists simplifying the notoriously intricate matrix of religion, property rights, violence and conflicting views of history that he encountered. Forced by his experiences to modify long-held beliefs about the Jewish state, he writes honestly and humorously about his ignorance, prejudices and discoveries. He effectively weaves in lively flashbacks starring the ever-present specter of Mrs. Blintzkrieg, the fieriest of Bialik Hebrew Day’s Zionist teachers. Garfinkel’s abilities as a playwright enrich the text, which is studded with brief, dramatic scenes distilling the emotional essence of each encounter or relationship.

A creative, unusual mix of memoir and travel narrative.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-393-06674-6
Page count: 358pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2008


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