Leshem’s debut, which won the 2006 Sapir Prize in Israel and was made into a film, is an alternately grim and blackly comic war/coming-of-age novel set at an Israeli outpost in southern Lebanon in 2000.
Liraz Liberti, age 21, is head of a 13-man commando team stationed at deceptively gorgeous Beaufort, a Crusader fort under constant threat from Hezbollah in the last days of the Israeli occupation. The novel takes the lively form of the protagonist’s diary, and it does many things well, capturing the endless-seeming stretches of boredom experienced by servicemen and showing how they are punctuated, terrifyingly and unpredictably, by deadly action, and conveying the absurdities and miscommunications and contradictions of the orders that come from above. Leshem is especially good in his portrayal of young men simultaneously brave and terrified, cynical and innocent, swaggering and vulnerable—and he gets at these things, persuasively, by means of the intricate, desperately playful argot of a fighting force trapped together in close quarters under high pressure. Liberti and his men become literally the last to leave Beaufort, pausing outside the walls to detonate the enclave that’s been their home, and the home of Israeli soldiers before them, for nearly two decades.
The hyper-colloquial style may not be lost in translation, but its effects are a bit blunted, and this is not a particularly subtle or inventive book. Nevertheless, Leshem tells a gripping, viscerally powerful tale.