A very young Israeli soldier whose best friends are Palestinian twins is driven to the breaking point by conflicting loyalties.
Rothman-Zecher’s debut begins in the “fluorescent glow of a jail cell” just days after its narrator’s 19th birthday. In an epistolary narrative addressed to his friend Laith, Jonathan pours out his heart and sorts through his past. Two years earlier, before his senior year of high school, Jonathan’s family returned to Israel after a long stint in Pennsylvania. The family’s history—his grandfather left the Greek city of Salonica before the Nazis deported all its Jews to concentration camps; other family members did not—has given Jonathan a profound sense of the importance of the Jewish state. Thus he was eagerly awaiting the beginning of his military service when he met Laith and his sister, Nimreen, tall, brilliant, cool Palestinian twins, students at Haifa University, both with eyes “the color of a sidewalk after a misty summer rain.” Charmed and amused by the boy and his really pretty decent command of Arabic, they take him under their wings, and all more or less fall in love with each other. Over a long series of adventures, bus trips, nights on the beach, marijuana-fueled conversations, and poetry readings, Jonathan begins to see the occupation through the eyes of his friends and grasps that their family history is no less tragic than his own. Then his draft date arrives, and before long his unit is sent as a police presence to a demonstration in the Territories. “Today, you’re going to put down a riot,” their commander says. What happens that day is the reason Jonathan is in jail, the reason for this cri de coeur to his beloved friend Laith.
A passionate, poetic coming-of-age story set in a mine field, brilliantly capturing the intensity of feeling on both sides of the conflict.