The People of Forever are not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
|The People of Forever are not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A coming of age novel with bite and an unusual perspective as we see the Israeli and its Defense Force through the eyes of three young female conscripts written by someone who has the same; a world that can change from boring to fatal in an instant.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: February 2013|
Yael, Lea and Avishag go through their final years at high school in a little Israeli town on the Lebanese border and then on to the inevitable: the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Gender is immaterial, all Israeli citizens must serve at least two years and for these girls the moment arrives after graduation. Yael's posting seems futile as she guards a training base against marauding lads, sneaking across the border to pinch perfume from pockets rather than pose any real security threat. Lea's assignment on a border checkpoint searching the daily line of immigrant workers is riddled with routine. Avishag joins up with her own demons, her brother Dan having died after his national service. She knows how it happened but continues to struggle with why; something she must handle alone.
Debut novelist Shani Boianjiu is Israeli and has served with the IDF so the accuracy of People of Tomorrow is undisputed. Here we're given a front row seat while being shown the Force from the inside out. She is also excellent at recreating the minutiae of our young soldiers' days. Israel is a melting pot of nationalities at the best of times. Australian, English, American, Polish, Iranian… the roll call of the citizens' birth countries reads like an atlas index. Now imagine these cultures, living alongside each other in cramped conditions with only a promised land in common while they try to remember they're all on the same side. There are other frustrations like the lack of equipment; some guns are only effective with a certain bullet, of which there are none.
These snapshots are presented to us laced with the boredom felt by young people who in many other countries would be out enjoying themselves and forging their future in a job. In Israel they're toting live ammunition or suppressing paranoia as they wonder if that person next to them on the bus is passenger or suicide bomber.
In some ways the girls have more personality during their school years. After conscription they move from the world of the individual to that of the unified military body and their personalities merge while their voices, are, at times, almost interchangeable. 'Almost' because Avishag's voice remains discernible, mainly because instead of providing counselling for the shock she and her family have experienced, she's given a gun.
The narrative viewpoints change as we read. Sometimes the girls narrate in first person, sometimes the story shifts to third person and sometimes we're looking through the eyes of someone completely different, like the Egyptian border guards who see a lot more than they're expecting. For me the most effective chapter alternates between an Israeli soldier and a Sudanese immigrant worker, juxtaposing two different forms of a fight for survival. Indeed, this isn't a novel that comes down on one side or the other as we're reminded again as the workers queue at the border to earn dignity as well as a wage. The author is writing in her second language (her first being Hebrew) and has gone on record as saying that, because of this, she works hard to ensure that each word counts. Vignettes like these prove that her hard work has more than paid off.
Shani sees good and bad in all nationalities and writes with a refreshing honesty and impartiality; a lesson for all of us. It's easy for us, as the rest of the world, to criticise one side or another from the safety of distance and supposed moral high ground. However, in doing this we forget they're all people. No matter what our politics may be, The People of Tomorrow reminds us of this and, by doing so, helps us to revisit our humanity, something that'll hopefully remain long after we've read the last page.
If this appeals to you and you'd like to read more about the Middle East and its politics, we recommend Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell.
You can read more book reviews or buy The People of Forever are not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The People of Forever are not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu at Amazon.com.
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