After reading about and participating in the discussion here on the young Israeli writer, Shani Boianjiu *, and her story, “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations,” I ordered an advance reading copy (ARC) of her forthcoming novel, The People of Forever are Not Afraid (pub. date Sept. 11). The good news is this book does not in any way, shape or form glorify the Israeli army, the State of Israel or the Israeli people. As hasbara, it has little value.
The novel is less about the army than the pre-publication publicity would lead one to believe, and more about the dark inner life and lurid misadventures of three young women coming of age in a land of violence and premature death. The menu here is dysfunctional personalities, sadism, and hard driving sex, pushing the limits of acceptability and taste. The girls’ victims are a hapless British-Jewish immigrant, an ineffectual long-time boyfriend, and in two separate instances, Palestinians. This is hardly something that is going to make the Birthright or Hadassah reading lists. Ironically, the most victimized characters in the book are the young women themselves, who are gang raped by a group of soldiers at an army base. The incident is described in a protracted, detached surrealistic manner which will surely surprise and baffle readers.
In an interview in The New Yorker, Boianjiu stated that Lea, a main character in her short story and novel, is not scarred by her experience in the army. This is perplexing, considering the following excerpt from the book, which shows Lea in post-army life engaging in bizarre anti-social behavior.
Boianjiu’s art aspires to pushing the boundaries of good taste. She has stated that her novel is not a criticism of the Israeli army (see Zancan interview cited below), but rather describes individuals, some good and some bad. The passage below should not be read as critical of Israeli society, and neither should the novel. My impression is that for this young author, like many, many Israelis and their supporters, no behavior, no matter how abominable, can ever indicate that there is something terribly wrong with Jewish Israeli society.
So, the passage below still begs the question: Did the young Israeli and her publisher go over the line of what is acceptable? I wonder how my Palestinian friends will react to this passage. Also, if the tormentors were more or less likeable Palestinians and the victim was a Jewish Israeli soldier, would Hogarth/Crown have published this description of the titillating effect of torture and revenge?
In this passage, Lea is sleeping with her lover and employer, Ron. When Ron awakes he realizes that a Palestinian whom Lea believes to be Fadi, a man who killed a soldier at a checkpoint, is imprisoned in another bedroom. The prisoner has been burned by a blowtorch which Ron recognizes as the one that has been taken from his food kiosk:
And the man, of course. It was impossible not to notice the man. A middle-aged Arab man was in the room, on the floor, with his hands and legs cuffed. He was naked, and the skin on his back was burned. His face was a host of colors and bumps, yellow, red, blue. He looked up and opened his mouth. He was missing two bottom front teeth, so that one tooth stood alone, like a baby’s.
Nothing made sense: nothing seemed to match. Ron opened his mouth but no words came out. He felt her hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t expect you to understand,” Lea said. “I saw him passed out drunk on a bench by the construction site under my building two days ago and I knew I recognized him. Fadi. So I took him. He killed a boy in my unit once. Cut his neck. Just reached in through his car and grabbed him by the collar and with the knife…”
… “It took me two hours to carry him up here. He was so drunk he didn’t even resist, but I was worried I was going to totally throw out my back,” Lea said. Her voice sounded sleepy. “He keeps on talking to me. On and on and on. You’d think he’d gather by this point I don’t understand a word of Arabic. I thought he’d stop talking after I knocked his teeth out, but he won’t.”
But wait, you do not think behavior like this from a nice Jewish girl is a big deal especially since it is just fiction? Check out the nice sexy Israeli boyfriend.
What did I do?” the man asked Ron. He looked at Ron as if he thought Ron had authority, as if he were a high-ranking Mossad agent who had finally come to do the right thing.
… [Then Ron] landed a blow on the back of the man’s neck. The man crumpled; his face smacked the floor. Ron couldn’t help but wonder if the blow had broken the torch, if it would ever work again.
He put his hand on the back of Lea’s neck, and she stepped closer and wet his chest, then began to kiss it, small kisses, like a child sipping soup.
… The morning was theirs.
This city is theirs.
And maybe everything is someone’s imagination.
Please, don’t judge. **
Don’t judge? How convenient!
* See interview with Boianjiu at The [TK] Review by Caroline Zancan.
** Boianjiu, Shani, The People Of Forever Are Not Afraid (Advance Reading Copy), New York: Hograth, 2012, p.273-275.