Beaufort by Ron Leshem

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Beaufort by Ron Leshem

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: The last days of an Israeli outpost in Lebanon, as seen through the eyes of the soldiers serving there. Ron Leshem's novel has been made into a film of the same name, which won the 2007 Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin Film Festival.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846551307

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Erez and his squad of young soldiers are posted to Beaufort, an Israeli outpost in Lebanon. From there, they aim to protect Israel's borders from 'terrorists'.

Before diving headlong into the thorny issue of Middle East politics, it's worth mentioning that Ron Leshem's writing is fantastic. It's crisp and punchy. It draws you in and keeps you fascinated from beginning to end. Leshem is a journalist by trade, which gives his writing a similar style to Rick Bragg's Redbirds (albeit with a very different subject matter). The story is told directly, focussing strongly on the plot, but with sufficient threads of atmosphere to get the reader's imagination ticking over.

Evan Fallenberg's translation is top notch too, perfectly capturing the slang of young soldiers, and never once feeling as if you're missing out by not reading it in the original Hebrew.

Beaufort isn't a gung-ho, populist page turner. It's intelligently written and has plenty of gravitas. It is, however, about young soldiers, some of whom are gung-ho, and for whom every Lebanese person is simply deemed a terrorist. Any grief soon gives way to a yen for revenge. It doesn't make for comfortable reading.

It is a realistic look at one side in this pathetic war. The issues can be extrapolated to all pathetic wars: the way in which soldiers need to dehumanise their enemy in order to function as ordered, and in the process become dehumanised themselves. However, these wider issues and any conclusions are largely left to the reader.

It's not even that I wanted Beaufort to have a point of view that matched mine. I just wanted it to have a firm point of view. When finishing the novel, I took from it the same world view that I had when I started. (Overly simplified: war is bad). However, I had an uncomfortable feeling that I hadn't been outraged enough, and wondered whether the lack of clear conclusion was, in some small way, making the outrageous tolerable.

Beaufort is fiction, but in a very real and tragic setting, with the kernels of characters coming from real people. Its ambiguity would be easier to stomach if it were real reportage. If fictional, it would be easier to stomach the ambiguity if it were about a war that wasn't ongoing.

Beaufort is a brilliantly written story that is worth reading, but its narrow perspective is its undoing, and prevents it from reaching the heights it could have.

If you want to remind yourself just how futile war is, re-read Catch-22 or Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo.

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