Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I loved it, so I decided to read another of his novels, this time one of the most acclaimed ones: “Never Let Me Go”. It was a disappointment.

6334This is a science fiction novel about human clones, who are raised up to serve as organ donors for their human originals when they get ill. We don’t know this is what the novel is actually about, because Ishiguro builds the story up gradually. We first read about this boarding school in rural England and the lives of the children there, and slowly, excruciatingly slowly, we learn that they are in fact human clones.

Not that there is anything wrong with slow novels. In fact, all the Ishiguro novels I read until now were paced very slowly. But his language and the story compensated for the slow pace. Not so in this novel. For some reason, Ishiguro adopted a technique here that I found quite annoying. The story is told by Kathy, an grown-up, who reminisces about her days at the school for human clones and her relationship with her friends there. Every few pages, Kathy “alerts” the reader that something happened, as a segue into the throwback into the story of how it happened. At first, this technique works. But after it repeats itself over and over again, it becomes tedious. We know Kathy is telling a story from her past; we don’t need the constant reminders we are about to jump back in time.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but this technique ruined the novel for me. The idea behind the story – that human clones have feelings and grow up pretty much like a real human – is an interesting one. But something in how Ishiguro tells the story didn’t work for me.

I will read more Ishiguro, but I hope the next novels I read will be more like “The Remains of the Day” and “The Buried Giant” and less like “Never Let Me Go”.


The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Everyone is reading Kazuo Ishiguro nowadays, the 2017 Nobel laureate in literature. In my defense I will say that I read two of his books prior to him receiving the Nobel. “The Buried Giant” is my third Ishiguro novel. And it’s a masterpiece.

The setting is England in the early Middle Ages, shortly after the legendary King Arthur passed away. Britons and Saxons are living more or less peacefully with each other, but still in separate villages. An elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, set out from their village on a journey to find their long-lost son. The entire population seems to be suffering from memory problems. The past is forgotten. Fragments of memories occasionally pop up, but mostly it’s a haze.

On their journey, Axl and Beatrice meet a Saxon warrior with his young protégé and an old Arthurian knight. They journey together, encountering along the way ogres, pixies and other mythical creatures. They appear to be on a joint quest to find and kill a she-dragon that is suspected to be responsible for the “mist” that causes people to forget the past. But, as it turns out, they all have different goals and interests, which slowly unravel as the story progresses.

This is not a fantasy novel. Nor is it a historical one. It is a novel about human beings and what motivates them. Mostly, it’s a novel about love. The love between Axl and Beatrice. The love between the Saxon warrior and his young companion. The love of the knight to his mission. Ishiguro reconstructs Middle Ages England through subtle details rather than through explicit descriptions. For example, to remind us of the state of hygiene at the time, a woman is described as not possessing the “smell of stale excrement the way most people did”.

As befits a master story teller, we do not discover who (or what) the “buried giant” is until the very end of the book. The ending leaves us pondering about the meaning of love, the ability to let go, the power of memories, and perhaps the unspoken quality and necessity of forgetfulness.


The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis

This book was recommended to me by the headmaster of my daughter’s school. I’m guessing it’s because I’m Israeli, and the book is about two Israelis. As is the case with many book recommendations, this turned out to be an excellent one.

41xSNcb9xkLMichael Lewis wrote the story of two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who met in the late 1960s at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Their collaborative work, over a decade and a half, laid the foundations for what is known today as behavioural economics. It seems natural today for economists to explain human behaviour in terms of irrational decisions (see Dan Ariely’s books), but 40-50 years ago, the underlying assumption was that people were rational beings and that all economic decisions were made based on rational choices. When I studied economics at the Hebrew University in the 1990s, this assumption was still very much valid for most of what I was taught.

Lewis does a fabulous job of weaving the story of the separate, yet intertwined, lives of Kahneman and Tversky. He describes their joint work but also their personal relationship and some of the personal conflicts and dilemmas they faced. They had very different characters, but a huge respect for each other and a collaboration that one of their wives described as “stronger than marriage”. They devised simple experiments that showed how every person is affected by biases, regardless of their level of education or experience. Using examples from sports, academia, business, the military and much more, Lewis illustrates how these experiments uncovered previously unknown human traits. They did not continue working together after the mid 1980s, when they had a fallout, hence the “undoing” in the book’s title.

Tversky died from cancer in 1996, at the age of 59. Kahneman received the Nobel prize for Economics in 2002.

The closing chapter of the book brought a tear to my eyes, not something one expects when reading a book about psychology and economics. It is a testament to the moving power of this book, which fittingly for a book about psychologists, focuses on the human nature of these towering giants of academic brilliance.

Silence, by Shusako Endo

Earlier this week I read the novel “Silence”, by Shusako Endo, and yesterday I watched the eponymous newly-released movie based on this novel.

Endo’s 1966 novel tells the story of a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Sebastiao Rodrigues, who travels to Japan together with a fellow priest, to find out what happened to their mentor, Father Ferreira, with whom the church had lost contact. This is 17th century Japan, when Christianity is outlawed and Christians are being persecuted by the ruling Shogunate.

Guided by a drunkard and unreliable Japanese Christian, Rodrigues and his partner land on an island off the coast of Kyushu and find refuge in a remote village of hidden Japanese Christians. They witness the hardships these peasants need to endure, suffering torture and death and yet refusing to renounce their faith and apostatize. The Jesuit priests flee from the authorities but are eventually captured and tortured by the local inquisitor. Rodrigues meets Ferreira and finds out what happened to him.

“Silence” here refers to the silence of God. Rodrigues’ faith is tested when he witnesses, again and again, the unbelievable sufferings of these humble Japanese peasants. He cries out for God to intervene but is answered with silence. This silence shakes him to the core and leads to internal struggles and to interesting theological exchanges with his Japanese inquisitors.

The novel is very engaging and the movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a faithful representation of the novel. At almost 3 hours long, and given its content, it is not an easy movie to watch. But reading the novel first helped, because knowing the story ahead of time allowed me to focus on the acting and the filmography. At times I felt as if I was watching a painting rather than a movie.

Earlier this month I visited Kyushu for the first time, and witnessed firsthand the Christian legacy in Japan. I was introduced to this painful time in history through the memorial for the 26 martyrs on Nishizaka hill in Nagasaki, and the artifacts from the Shimabara Rebellion at the local castle (an event which triggered the brutal repression of Japanese Christians depicted in the novel). Endo’s book and Scorsese’s movie both resonated strongly with me after this visit.

“Borderlife”, by Dorit Rabinyan

The new book by Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, “Boderlife” (original Hebrew title “גדר חיה”), became a bestseller in Israel almost instantly. But not thanks to Rabinyan’s reputation or to good reviews.

The novel catapulted to the top of the bestseller lists because the Ministry of Education banned the book from inclusion in high school curricula. The reason? It is a story of an intimate relationship between a Jewish Israeli woman and a Muslim Palestinian man. Such a relationship was deemed inappropriate for teenager consumption, lest it endanger the separate identities of the two peoples and encourage assimilation. Following the public outcry, the Ministry clarified that the book is not banned, just “not included” in the recommended reading list.

The plot in short. A young Israeli woman, Liat, meets a young Palestinian man, Hilmi, in New York. They are both there temporarily. They fall in love and have a relationship that lasts a few months, during the winter of 2003. In the spring, they both return home – she to Tel Aviv, he to his village in the West Bank – and the relationship ends. They don’t meet in Israel/Palestine. Their short-lived relationship is a common love story, except of course in the background is the fact that they come from two sides of a bitter national conflict. Sometimes they argue, but mostly the book focuses on the woman’s thoughts (it’s written in the first female form) about this impossible love.

Rabinyan writes well, in beautiful Hebrew prose, just as she did in her previous two award-winning novels. But truth be told, the story itself is quite banal. I doubt whether this book would have been such a success had the authorities – in a typically short-sighted decision – not made it famous by declaring it “liber non grata”.

In my opinion, the Jewish-Muslim love story is not the problem of this book. Besides the banality of the love story, what is much more annoying is the way Rabinyan depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not a political novel (maybe it is?), but Rabinyan manages to subtly convey her opinion about who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy in this conflict.

A few examples:

  • Hilmi comes from an educated family, who readily accepts his Jewish girlfriend. In contrast, Liat goes through painstaking efforts to hide her relationship, lest her family “hang her in public”.
  • Hilmi comes from a family that was deported from Israel in 1948, and when he was a teenager he was jailed for 4 months for writing graffiti. The soldiers in the military prison are described as minor sadists, who derive pleasure from making the Palestinian prisoners sing Israeli songs against their will.
  • Liat constantly thinks about how her lover sees their relationship through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She is constantly on the defensive, imagining his pains. Hilmi, on the other hand, is carefree and a free spirit (he is a painter).
  • The Israelis Liat and Hilmi bump into in New York are described as loud, rude and selfish. On the other hand, Hilmi’s brothers and friends are described as beautiful, smart and gentle.

And so it goes, on and on. Frankly, this is tiring. It is so typical of the prevailing zeitgeist among certain Israeli left-wing writers that it borders on the pathetic. My views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are well known to the readers of this blog, and yet I find such one-sided depictions of “who’s good and who’s bad” in this conflict truly despicable. I couldn’t enjoy this well-written book because of this annoyingly self-deprecating, perhaps even self-hating, subtext. Shame really.

So maybe, after all, the Ministry of Education’s decision, although misguided in its intention, is a blessing in disguise. Israeli teenagers are blessed not to be exposed to such dribble about the conflict they grew up into. They deserve better.

Pepper, Silk & Ivory

When one thinks about Jewish history in the 20th century, it is typically about Jews in Europe and the U.S., and, from the middle of the century, Israel. Rarely does one think about Asia as being significant in the history of the Jews. But, as this book “Pepper, Silk & Ivory” shows, Jews played a major role in Asia’s history as well.

Pepper Silk and Ivory

Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, who served as the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan for 8 years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is one of the foremost experts on Jewish history in Asia. Together with writer and producer Ellen Rodman, he tells this history through a series of captivating, sometimes gripping, stories. In 23 well-researched and informative chapters, he unfolds the sometimes unbelievable stories of Jews who helped shape history around the continent and were shaped by it.

In this book you will read about the Jewish man who was a general in the Chinese army; the Jewish woman who insisted on including rights for women and children in Japan’s constitution (and succeeded); the Jewish banker who financed Japan’s victory against Russia in the 1904 war; the moving story of the Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II; the first Chief Minister of Singapore, a Jew; the origins of the giant conglomerate Shell Oil; and much, much more.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Tokayer in Tokyo many years ago, and last year again in Kobe. Listening to this man is like tuning in to a history documentary on Discovery Channel. This book is a monumental accomplishment, and one that every person interested in the history of the Jews should read.

What I’ve Read This Month – July 2014

Books Bought:

  • La Voce del Violino – Andrea Camilleri (Kindle)
  • The People of Forever Are Not Afraid – Shani Boianjiu (Kindle)

Books Read:

  • יהדות ללא אשליה – אליעזר גולדמן
  • The Last Coyote – Michael Connelly
  • The People of Forever Are Not Afraid – Shani Boianjiu (Kindle)

Eliezer Goldman (1918-2002) was born in New York, Goldman made aliyah when he was 20 and became a life-long kibutznik at Sde Eliyahu. He taught at Bar Ilan university and in 1988 won the Bialik Prize for Jewish Thought. Despite this distinguished career, he is little known and his writings have not made it to mainstream Jewish Philosophy curricula. And that’s a real shame.

Goldman is a pragmatist (in fact, his PhD was on Pragmatism). This book, “יהדות ללא אשליה” (“Judaism with No Illusion”) is an anthology of various writings and research papers he wrote, collected under two categories: 1. Jewish Thought and 2. Ethics, Society and State. Reading through these essays, one is amazed by the breadth and depth of Goldman’s intellectual reach. He deals with the most burning issues in Jewish Philosophy and current day challenges of the Jewish State, all in a clear and resonating voice.

Unlike his more famous, likely-minded contemporaries such as Yishayahu Leibowitz and David Hartmann, Goldman led a life away from the media limelight. With his passing away, some of his students have started publishing his writings and holding symposiums discussing them. Hopefully this will expose this important thinker to wider audiences in coming years.

“The Last Coyote” is the fourth book in the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly. The title of the book comes from Bosch’s frequent dreams and sightings of a coyote near his home in Los Angeles.

This book is different from the first three in the series. Bosch is suspended from duty after punching his commanding officer in the face and is undergoing therapy sessions with a psychologist. He also broke up with his girlfriend a few months ago. In short, he’s a mess, and it feels so in the book. The atmosphere is much darker and pessimistic than in previous books.

The mission Bosch is after here is solving a murder that took place decades ago, his mother’s murder. She worked as a prostitute and was found one day dumped in a Hollywood alley. The murder was never solved and many loose ends were left unexplored. Bosch realizes he cannot get on with his life without closure on this case, so – devoid of his badge and gun – he embarks on a personal mission to find out who killed his mother. The trail leads him to some surprising and prominent figures whose paths his mother crossed. In the end, as usual, the real killer is actually someone quite different.

I didn’t like this book as much as the previous ones. Solving his mother’s murder was supposed to be some highlight in Bosch’s life, but the dark and depressing mood of this story somehow manages to ruin the “joy” of reading a crime thriller. Bosch is doing way too much navel gazing in this novel. Hopefully he will be back to himself in future books in the series.

Shani Boianjiu is a young Israeli author who wrote a book, in English, about her military service: “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid”. The book is the story about three friends – Yael, Avishag and Lea – who grew up together in a small village in northern Israel. When they get drafted to the army, their lives change, but in different ways. Yael trains infantry soldiers to shoot; Avishag stands guard in border crossings; Lea checks Palestinians entering Israel to work. As young women they talk about boys and worry about their future.

I bought this book because of the excellent reviews it received. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete it. I tried really hard, but the ramblings of Boianjiu were so boring I just couldn’t take it. I felt like I was reading the diary of a teenager, and a tedious one at that.

Serves me right. I should have followed my instincts. When I read reviews that say things like “a distinct new voice in literature” I become suspicious. Boianjiu’s awful book proves my instincts are correct.

What I’ve Read This Month – February-April 2014

Books Bought:

  • The Turkish Gambit – Boris Akunin (Kindle)
  • מפגשים: חמשה סיפורים מיפן – אירית ויינברג, עורכת
  • The Racketeer – John Grisham
  • The Disappeared – Kristina Ohlsson
  • The Faithful Spy – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • מוסדות השלטון בישראל – דב בן-מאיר (Kindle)
  • Flexigidity – Gidi Grinstein
  • The Ghost War – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • Kosher Lust – Shmuel Boteach
  • Death in Venice – Thomas Mann (Kindle)
  • Dubliners – James Joyce (Kindle)
  • Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse (Kindle)
  • The Silent Man – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
  • The Honest Truth About Dishonesty – Dan Ariely
  • The English Assassin – Daniel Silva (Kindle)

Books Read:

  • The Turkish Gambit – Boris Akunin
  • סימנטוב – אסף אשרי
  • על דעת הקהל: ספר היובל לכבוד אביעזר רביצקי, כרך א’ – בנימין בראון
  • מפגשים: חמשה סיפורים מיפן – אירית ויינברג
  • Black Ice – Michael Connelly
  • סוף המירוץ – מישקה בן-דוד
  • על דעת הקהל: ספר היובל לכבוד אביעזר רביצקי, כרך ב’ – בנימין בראון
  • Flexigidity – Alex Berenson
  • חיים כהן, שופט עליון – שיחות עם מיכאל ששר
  • The Ghost War – Alex Berenson (Kindle)
  • ירושלים – גונסאלו טווארש
  • Siddharta – Hermann Hesse (Kindle)
  • Death in Venice – Thomas Mann (Kindle)
  • The Silent Man – Alex Berenson (Kindle)

February and March were slow reading months, but I made up for them in April. 14 books in all in these 3 months, besides the various periodicals and magazines that take up precious reading time. I guess the Passover holidays helped… 16 new books added to my library, of which 2 were sent to me for review. Had to install a new bookshelf in my basement last month.

I have not had the time to write a review to all the books I read. I procrastinated with the reviews for a long time, resulting in a pileup of books on my desk… So I’ve decided to publish what I wrote and “jump” to the current month (July), leaving quite a few books without a review. As the proverb goes: “What the heart craves time takes away”…

I so enjoyed reading the first book in the Fandorin series by Boris Akunin (Azazel, reviewed here), that I immediately downloaded the second book in the series, “The Turkish Gambit” to read on my Kindle. And I was positively surprised, as I was expecting “more of the same” and got something very different, yet not less entertaining.

The first book focused on the young detective Fandorin and his first big case – uncovering a global plot to overtake the world (no less!). Fandorin was the narrator of the story, so I expected to see him as the main character in this new book. Instead, “The Turkish Gambit” is more of a historical espionage novel where Fandorin is hardly the main character.

The story is narrated by Varvara Suvorova, a young Russian woman who travels to meet her fiancé, a cryptographer at the war front of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877. The fiancé turns out to be busy, so Suvorova spends most of her time with the foreign journalists covering the war, and gets to meet Fandorin, becoming (unwillingly for both sides) his assistant.

In this novel, Akunin manages to make Fandorin a hidden hero. He is absent from most pages of the book, while the story focuses on the progress of the war and the Russian effort to take back a city held by the Turks. But Akunin astutely makes Fandorin appear occasionally to keep the reader wondering what he’s up to, all the while guessing that he’s working on the real story, away from the noisy proceedings of the war. And indeed Fandorin emerges as the astute observer behind the scenes, who manages to uncover and foil the “Turkish Gambit” to win the war. Another enjoyable book from Akunin.

I bought this book in one of those book sales where you buy the book by the kilogram… I picked it up because I got the author’s name – Assaf Asheri – confused with another, more popular, Israeli writer – Ehud Asheri. After finishing the book (with great effort) I regret this mistake.

“Simantov” is the surname of police detective Mazal, whose unit focuses on the paranormal, with emphasis on Jewish mythology paranormal. Her mother and her have a problematic relationship, but she relies on her as she’s taught her everything she knows. The basic plot is that a group of “sons of God”, more commonly known as angels, kidnap seven women who are the “daughters of Lilith” (the first wife Adam had, before Eve, according to Jewish mythology). The police are scrambling to find the perpetrators of the kidnappings, a talk that proves to be quite difficult given that the kidnappers are, well, angels. In step Mazal, her mother Ruth, and a bunch of mystics, to help guide the police.

This book is a mess. It jumps from topic to topic, never dwelling long enough on any character (including Mazal) or any part of the plot. The author’s excessive use of metaphors is, frankly, quite tiring and in some places totally inadequate. The prose seems stuck at times, erratically jumping to unrelated thoughts by the undeveloped characters.

As mentioned, I had a difficult time finishing this book. It ends – how predictabley disappointing! – with a supernatural fights between the angels, the daughters of Lilith and heavenly intervention (in the form of, no less, the prophet Elijah). I could have given this book a miss and saved a few precious hours of reading displeasure.

This two-volume book is a collection of essays and academic papers put together in honour of Prof. Aviezer Ravitzky, a renowned scholar of Jewish Thought and winner of the Israel Prize. Ravitzky never fully recovered from the head injury after being hit by a bus in 2006, and the essay written by his children and opening this book highlights the life of the family before and after the accident.

As expected, this book was a joy to read. Israel’s most prominent scholars came together to discuss one of the topics studied and researched by Ravitzky: Religion and Politics in Jewish Thought. The book is divided into various sections: Philosophy in Antiquity and Middle Ages, Kabbalah, Contemporary Thought and Halacha. It is impossible to summarise the wealth of knowledge contained in this book. It is a fitting achievement in honour of a great man.

This book, “מפגשים” (“Encounters”) is an anthology of five stories, written by some of the most prominent Japanese writers, and translated into Hebrew by Irit Weinberg. It appeared only in digital format, in the budding Israeli e-book website Booxilla.

All stories were written around the Second World War in the 20th century (3 prior to the war; 2 after it). They have one thing in common: they are not “grand stories”. They tell the story of simple, everyday people, and their encounters with each other. In the background is the complex relationship between traditional Japanese culture and encroaching Western culture. The stories are typically Japanese in that they describe a slow-moving lifestyle, concentrating in seemingly mundane daily happenings, but slowly revealing a deep understanding of human nature.

Confession: I don’t like Michael Connelly much. My wife is a bigger fan than I am, so that’s why we have 16 of his novels at home. This is only the third one I’ve read.

“Black Ice” is a book in the Harry Bosch series (I believe the second one). Bosch, a homicide detective carrying baggage from his fighting days in Vietnam, is investigating the apparent suicide of another cop, from the narcotics division. Although he is warned by his boss to stay away from the case, he (of course) does not. His investigation ties in with other cases he is working on, and he ends up going to Mexico to track down the origins of the “Black Ice” drug that originates there.

I don’t know what bothers me about Connelly’s writing. These are the kind of books one finishes on a flight or during a lazy afternoon, but it took me more than two weeks to finish it! Something’s not clicking between me and Connelly, and I can’t put my finger on what it is.

I have read (almost) all of Mishka ben David’s books. A retired Mossad agent and a PhD in Hebrew Literature, ben David is an excellent writer. This book is different from his previous ones, proving his abilities go beyond spy novels.

“סוף המרוץ” (“End of the Race”) is a book infused with love for horses and horse racing. Ben David apparently owns a horse riding farm, and his passion for the subject is apparent on every page of this book.

After a long deliberation, Yotam, a successful IDF officer, decides to cut short his military career and spend more time with his family. Except he’s a bit late. His wife tells him she’s leaving right before he has the chance of telling her about his big decision. He decides to build a horse riding farm, something his wife always dreamed about, to try and win her heart back. In parallel, he grapples with his newly found fatherhood.

Enter Yotam’s younger brother. After spending years in the Far East adopting Zen Buddhism, he decides to compete for becoming the national champion in horse racing. He trains with his Bedouin friend and slowly plants the competitive bug also in Yotam. The brothers have conversations about the meaning of life and how to live it, enabling Yotam to define for himself what he really wants and his relationship with his estranged wife.

I enjoyed reading this book, so different from all other ben David books.

My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit

This book is an attempt to explain Israel. If I were asked how long it would take to accomplish such a gargantuan task, my guess would have been several encyclopedic tomes, and then some. Ari Shavit did it in less than 500 beautifully written pages.

My Promised LandShavit uses his family’s history as the framework for telling the story of Israel. His great-grandfather, a Victorian English Jew, travels to Palestine in 1897 and, after a short tour of the land, decides to make it his home. Through the experiences of this early 20th century Zionistic immigrant, Shavit begins to weave the magnificent yet tragic story of the Jewish settlement of Palestine. Magnificent because of the unparalleled success of Zionism in bringing back a people who were nation-less for two millennia to their forefathers’ land, to build a thriving and prosperous country. Tragic because the land these pioneers settled was not empty. In their eagerness to fulfill their mission, they neglected to take into proper account the existence of the native Arab population. Half a century before the establishment of the State of Israel, they story of Shavit’s great-grandfather encapsulates the seeds of the struggle for this tiny piece of land.

With admirable candour and acute perspicacity Shavit goes on to examine the multifaceted story that is Israel, the forces that shaped it into being and the forces that will determine its future. He speaks of how the story of Masada – where besieged Jews committed suicide en masse rather than succumb to Roman forces – became the defining story for early Zionists. He recounts, with vivid detail, the story of Lydda, an Arab town whose population was forced into exile during the 1948 War of Independence (known to Palestinians as the Nakba, the Catastrophe). He interviews right-wing settlers and left-wing “peaceniks” to try and understand the post-1967 struggle between a Greater Israel and the efforts to bring an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. He examines the demographic changes that are transforming Israeli society: the huge influx of ex-Soviet Jews in the 1990s, the minority of Arab-Israelis and the fast-growing Ultra Orthodox community. He analyses the policy of nuclear opacity that allowed Israel to build a doomsday capability and yet avoided leveraging its existence even in the most dire of circumstances. And he describes the threats that Israel faces in the 21st century, among them a regional nuclear arms race, the so-called “Arab Spring”, the complex relationship with world Jewry and the troubling lack of sense of identity in the young generation.

While I don’t necessarily agree with all of Shavit’s conclusions, I am awed by his phenomenal accomplishment. He succeeded to convey the complexity of Israel, past and present, in a coherent and comprehensive way, while trying to outline a vision for the future. Even as an Israeli, familiar with the story and the details, I found this to be a fascinating read.

I also found myself wondering if non-Israelis would find Shavit’s book as comprehensible and evocative as I did. I will recommend it to some friends abroad and see what they say.