Almost Dead: A Novel by Assaf Gavron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I thought that this book should have switched titles with Super Sad True Love Story.
An Israeli citizen named Eitan Einoch survives three suicide bombings. He becomes a national celebrity as shell shock overwhelms him. For a short while, it seems he find happiness; from the first suicide bombing, a fellow rider with a premonition asks Einoch to deliver a message to his girlfriend. Einoch plays it off. After he disembarks the minibus, the bomber struck. Einoch deals with his survival by trying to deliver the message. He falls in love with the girl.
There is a parallel story, told from Fahmi Sabih’s point of view. We learn that he is a Palestian refugee, lying in a hospital room. He’s in a coma; it doesn’t take much to realize that his story will converge with Einoch’s.
I haven’t had much exposure to fiction from the Middle East, and only from a historical perspective (Orman Pamuk’s My Name is Red.) As a disinterested third party, I feel that Gavron was delicate in portraying the plight and character of Palestinians – including the suicide bombers. One gets a sense of the complexities that any inhabitant must juggle. Loyalty to family, to one’s tribe, to society, and even to oneself – exemplified by the need to seek a better life. Not everyone succumbs to hate. Not everyone can rise to forgive. Some parents wish their sons to join the fight; others wish them to flee and just live.
Gavron brings a light touch, I think. Nothing is too heavy handed; I thought it was masterful the way he portrayed Einoch’s numbness has he survives attack after attack. I have no idea how I would react, nor do I know how one usually responds, but I can appreciate that some people may not run screaming – at least not right away. Instead, he lets Einoch’s problems develop; rather than dramatic confrontations, Einoch loses efficiency and concentration.
Another device Gavron uses well is coincidence. Not the fact that Einoch suffers several bombings and has his fate intertwined with Fahmi, but the simple interactions with other characters. The encounters do not seem forced; Gavron gives his characters space. Just because two of them appear on the same stage doesn’t mean that it will lead to anything. This light touch helps to create an impression of life, of simply being.
Gavron, I think, brings a bit of sympathy in his portrayal of life and death in Israel. He can’t fault the hard-liners too much, and I think he wishes the best for the citizens who wish to ignore the conflict and just live. But there are too many fingers pointing; every combatant has an easy time claiming vengeance for a previous injustice or violence. It brings to mind George Carlin’s rant on “Peace without honor” – one mustn’t let pride be valued over life. In most cases, pride means to get one’s way. The reciprocal recriminations sound like the argument that it’s turtles all the way down, with no true foundation in sight.