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by Shani Boianjiu

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-95595-1
Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

A debut novel about coming-of-age in the Israeli army.

Drawing on her two years of experience in the army, Boianjiu tells a story that centers on the lives of several small-town friends who are drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces, in which women are required by law to serve. The girls, Yael, Avishag and Lea, are alike and different at the same time. Although they share a common background as schoolgirls living in a country where violence is an everyday component of life, they are also young women, exploring their sexuality while sorting through feelings about their world. Yael becomes a weapons instructor, shooting grenades at wrecked cars in order to pass the time and teaching an errant solider how to hit a target. Lea enters the service of the military police, dons the hated blue beret and feels miserable as a checkpoint crossing guard. The third of the friends, Avishag, marks her entry into the service by excelling at the gas mask test that recruits are required to pass, while slowly allowing the troubled history of the family’s women to overtake her present and affect both her mind and relationships. Other characters pass through the book, touching the girls’ lives and challenging their thinking, but war and violence, death and killing, define both their time in service and their civilian lives. Boianjiu’s prose is coarse, raw and altogether befitting her subject. Hard to read in places, the novel veers back and forth between the present and the past, describing ugly lives filled with emotional detachment from violence, casual sex that seems almost conquering in nature, and complicated, disturbing relationships with families, other soldiers and the people these women protect and serve.

Not for the squeamish. Readers will either embrace the complexity of the writing or become maddeningly lost as the author meanders through a hot, dry country devoid of tenderness.