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50-Jan-Feb-2011
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A-To The End of the LandDavid Grossman, one of Israel's most acclaimed writers and a noted activist, has been heralded as the author of one of literature's most recent antiwar novels. Published two years ago in Israel, the novel has tragic parallels to the writer's own life. Grossman's youngest son was killed in the last days of the 2006 Lebanon war, which the author had opposed.

The Story: Ora's younger son, Ofer, just released after three years in the Israeli army, immediately returns for a month-long emergency operation in Gaza--as always, it is potentially fatal, and Ora can't stand to sit at home waiting for news of her son's death. Instead of hiking with Ofer in the Galilee, as they had planned, Ora, recently estranged from her husband, decides to set off on the hike with the brilliant but damaged Avram, Ofer's father and a former lover who had been captured and tortured during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. As a result, he had become a hermit and never met his son. As the duo travels south, through beautiful hills dotted with monuments to Israeli's dead soldiers, they avoid news from the front and, through stories of Ofer, slowly reveal their lives to each other and start to learn how to live again.
Knopf. 582 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780307592972

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4.5 of 5 Stars
To the End of the Land is actually a book of multiple journeys through time and space, all of which involve or orbit its central and only female character, Ora--a variant of the Hebrew word for ‘light.' . ... In Ora, David Grossman has mapped the genome of his beloved, tragic land." Rick Archbold

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"While his novel has the vast sweep of pure tragedy, it is also at times playful, and utterly engrossing; it is filled with original and unexpected detail about domestic life, about the shapes and shadows that surround love and memory, and about the sharp and desperate edges of loss and fear. ... And there is the story itself, unfolded with care and truth, wit and tenderness and rare understanding." Colm Tóibín

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[It] can be difficult to resist looking for biographical parallels between the life of the writer and his tale of a family fearing the loss of a soldier son. There is, however, a larger, more profound sense of finality to Grossman's work; it is not merely a single soldier who is facing death here, but an entire country." Saul Austerlitz

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Grossman's case against war is the most primitive one imaginable: He endeavors to demonstrate the cost of a single human life, in this case by underlining the miraculous set of circumstances that converge to bring a child into the world. ... In its rougher stretches, To the End of the Land can feel overly sentimental and laden with awkward contrivance, but the novel's overwhelming, insistent emotional richness rewards the reader's indulgence." Akiva Gottlieb

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The tension a reader feels is only partly due to that real-world circumstance, though. Most is due to Grossman's artistry, which creates full-fledged people in Ora, Avram and Ofer, leaving his reader as raw with worry--as blindly hopeful--as the parent of anyone who has put himself in harm's way." Alan Rosenberg

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Biblical allusions and a sense of history weave through the novel much as the plot leads us through Israel's northern hills, juxtaposing the seemingly timeless landscape of the Galilee with monuments to modern-day martyrs. ... Needless to say, the novel's perspective is profoundly anti-war, but in such a personal way that it speaks more to the human condition than the politics of the matter." Ellen Emry Heltzel

Critical Summary

David Grossman has penned a masterpiece about the psychological and real costs of a war-torn society. While To the End of the Land will most likely be categorized as an antiwar novel, it speaks just as loudly to the contradictions of the human condition by eloquently connecting the personal--a single soldier facing possible death, a mother's preemptive grief--with the politics of an entire country. Critics agree that the novel is one of Grossman's richest, most emotionally forceful works, defined by a "profound sense of finality" (Boston Globe) and a protagonist, Ora, "a modern-day Scheherazade" (Seattle Times). That said, the novel is not for readers who enjoy carefree plots. As the New York Times Book Review wrote, this is an important book, "one of those few novels that feel as though they have made a difference to the world."