By – September 26, 2011

1967. Three ill teenagers — flame-haired Ora; Avram, wild with imag­i­na­tion and exot­ic knowl­edge; and Ilan, lat­er his com­pan­ion in all exploits — meet in the iso­la­tion ward of a hos­pi­tal. Young, vul­ner­a­ble, eager for them­selves and one anoth­er, they come togeth­er night­ly in the almost dream­like pro­logue to this pow­er­ful and mem­o­rable novel.

2000. Thir­ty-three years lat­er, Ora is alone. Ilan has recent­ly left her, and she has just dropped their younger son at his army unit’s meet­ing point for an emer­gency call up. In a rush of mag­i­cal think­ing, she decides that she can pro­tect her son by tak­ing a hike in the Galilee that she had planned for the two of them. She will dis­ap­pear, and the noti­fiers, the bear­ers of the unbear­able news, will not find her. As she makes the final prepa­ra­tions for the hike, the phone rings. Avram, Avram who has not spo­ken with her for three years, Avram who crawled into a shell decades ago after sur­viv­ing hor­rif­ic tor­ture as a pris­on­er in the Sinai cam­paign. Lit­er­al­ly drag­ging him from his apart­ment, Ora takes Avram to the Galilee with her.

Over their long days and nights togeth­er, walk­ing through bright spring blooms with val­leys open­ing before them, Ora and Avram reel back through their lives, apart and togeth­er. Slow­ly, mov­ing back­ward and across time, the sto­ry of the three inter­twined friends and lovers unfolds. It is a sto­ry of com­plex and inti­mate con­nec­tions marked by mul­ti­ple loves — love that cre­ates a fam­i­ly, sen­su­al love, love between insep­a­ra­ble friends, love for army com­rades, love of the very earth Ora and Avram are tread­ing — all shaped by inescapable war and the ten­sions it imposes.

Beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten and ful­ly real­ized, this is a nov­el of great depth and artistry. David Gross­man, one of Israel’s most hon­ored writ­ers, con­veys the vital­i­ty and human­i­ty of every char­ac­ter, etched against the inten­si­ty and pain of life in the dai­ly pres­ence of an ene­my. There is not a page of this book that does not call out for an end to war.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions

1. What one word would you use to describe the cen­tral theme of this nov­el? Is it a polit­i­cal novel? 

2. Through­out the nov­el is the notion of tapes­try, of threads being woven. What does that tapes­try signify? 

3. What do you think was Grossman’s intent with the pro­logue? What did this open­ing lead you to expect from the rest of the nov­el? Was it sig­nif­i­cant to you as a read­er, lat­er in the sto­ry, to have known these char­ac­ters as teenagers? 

4. What func­tion does Sami serve in the nov­el? What do we learn about Ora through her inter­ac­tions with him? 

5. On page 134, Ora tells Sami to dri­ve to where the coun­try ends.” His reply: For me it end­ed a long time ago.” What does he mean by that? How does this change your inter­pre­ta­tion of the novel’s title? 

6. In both Adam and Ofer, the influ­ence of nature vs. nur­ture seems quite flu­id. How is each like his bio­log­i­cal father, and how does each resem­ble the man to whom he is not relat­ed by blood?