As Figs in Autumn: One Year in a For­ev­er War

  • Review
By – October 16, 2023

As Figs in Autumn is a lyri­cal com­ing-of-age mem­oir about Amer­i­can and Israeli Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. Ben Bas­tom­s­ki details his expe­ri­ence of when, inspired by the untime­ly loss of a friend, he joined the Israeli Defense Forces as a lone sol­dier after his grad­u­a­tion from Brown University.

Bas­tom­s­ki ten­der­ly cap­tures what it is to be an Amer­i­can Jew in Israel, at once at home and an out­sider. He grap­ples with the com­plex­i­ties of the State of Israel, notably in a chap­ter in which he explores the char­ac­ter of Baruch Gold­stein, the ultra-nation­al­is­tic zealot who was respon­si­ble for the mass mur­der of Pales­tini­ans at the Cave of the Patri­archs. For Baruch, to heal his broth­ers and to kill their Mus­lim ene­mies stemmed from the same one shore­sh: there nev­er was a con­tra­dic­tion in pre­serv­ing lifeblood and spilling it with the same hands.” In his rela­tions with the Pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tion in Israel and the Occu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries, Bas­tom­s­ki becomes aware of the dis­tance between him and them. Wakef wal­la-anna batuchak. In Ara­bic: Stop or I will shoot … I won­dered if [the army] could not have taught us each word instead of just the chain, so that with­in my mind I could rearrange these word mag­nets into more poems than just this one” (135). When Bas­tom­ski­he leaves the army, he doesn’t have PTSD, but he has grown, and with that growth comes a sense of loss. 

When it comes to Israel, there is so much to say that it is impos­si­ble to say every­thing. Bas­tom­s­ki makes the right choice by focus­ing on his per­son­al sto­ry; he doesn’t need to go beyond his own expe­ri­ence to depict the sor­row and lone­li­ness of being a sol­dier in Israel, even one who vol­un­teered. After all, it was grief that led him to Israel, and the nar­ra­tive is suf­fused in a kind of melan­choly that doesn’t lessen over time. Bastomski’s dis­tinct, poet­ic lan­guage uplifts this already com­pelling story.

Ariel­la Carmell is a Brook­lyn-based writer of plays and prose. She grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, where she stud­ied lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy. Her work has appeared in Alma, the Sier­ra Neva­da Review, the Brook­lyn review, and elsewhere.

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