‘To the End of the Land’

David Grossman’s To the End of the Land is an utterly absorbing, harrowing and heart-achingly evocative book.

Unlike some books, we are given quite a long synopsis on the back cover which is very useful due to the depth of the narrative.

From the outset, the book takes you off into a completely different world and into an unfamiliar scenario. Immediately we are out of our comfort zones and this is refreshingly brilliant! Our protagonist is Ora and we first encounter her in a medical facility where she, Avram and Ilan were sent as children. Soon into the first few chapters, we realise that we’re on the cusp of a love triangle but are constantly aware that there is much much more to the narrative than that…

OH MY there was SO much more to the narrative than that!

Suddenly, they aren’t children any more and they aren’t sheltered from the outside world and all the terrible things that happen there…they are in the midst of the Israel-Pakistan conflict and torn between right and wrong, fear and bravery and love and hate in a seemingly unending spiral! Not knowing much about the conflict in Israel/Pakistan meant that I actually learned a lot more about the people of the countries than the political backdrop.

It is impossibly hard to write about this book without firstly giving too much away!

So in addition to the three central characters, we become aware that Ora has two sons and they have been directly involved in the conflict, much to her despair, her youngest son Ofer is re-enlisted at the end of his tour and Ora soon convinces herself that he probably won’t come back from this and that she does not want to be there when they come to tell her that he or her ex Ilan…that he has died so she flees to Galilee…with Avram.Yes, you’ve guessed it…there’s a lot more to the unrequited love triangle than first meets the eye…

I absolutely love books that really focus on people rather than tarring them with the brush of the context. To the End of the Land does just that. In a similar vein to A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Calligrapher’s Daughter, this book shows you the politics, the prejudices, the conflicts etc. predominantly through the people at the heart of the country. It is a wonderful read, difficult at times but it is the strength and realism of Ora as the central character and the focus on the plight of the people in spite of the horrendous ongoing conflicts that make this book so good and so real.

Grossman’s writing is tender, sophisticated and harrowing all in one. This is a wonderful book, which captures the fear, bravery and bloodshed of war whilst keeping love, family and heartache at the forefront.

If you like Khaled Hosseini and Eugenia Kim and if you like reading about strength in the face of adversity, you must read this book, it’s wonderfully and thoughtfully written whilst reminding you that even though all we civilians hear about war is in numbers…there are people behind the numbers, people behind the guns, people with families.

This book is good for rainy days and quiet evenings. You won’t be disappointed.

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‘The Calligrapher’s Daughter’

This enchanting novel by Eugenia Kim is set in early twentieth century Korea and tells the life of Najin Han, the priveleged daughter of a calligrapher. Set over a thirty-year period, the novel shows both Najin’s progression from unruly daughter into a brave woman, who her father can be proud of.

From the outset, the traditional Korean values and the increasingly intrusive Japanese presence become very apparent. We play witness to a series of terrifying events in Korea and subsequently empathise deeply with the Han family and various other characters whom we encounter, like Najin’s friend who falls in forbidden love with a Japanese doctor…

The way that Eugenia Kim writes is very pleasing as it reflects the gentile nature of Korean women and all of the prose is written as such and is very respectful. Thereare times throughout where Najin punishes herself for thinking certain things, which reinforces this idea of repression which recurs throughout the novel in various different ways.

Before reading the book, I wasn’t really aware of the problems in Korea/China/Japan but after reading this book (and the handy historical notes which accompany it) I know a little bit more about the world and the relations between the countries but without feeling preached at.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading something a little bit different. It is cleverly and brilliantly structured (in chronological order…for anyone who fears the disjointed narratives) and there are a number of twists and turns along the way which I definitely didn’t expect! As the book spans such a large period of history, we are able to watch Najin grow up and strive for her father’s respect, her chosen career and a marriage on her terms. Najin is a modern woman trapped in a traditional time and it is really interesting to follow her life as she never loses sight of her ambitions, whilst simultaneously doing everything she can to please her family.