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.