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Very painful to read

To the End of the Land - David Grossman

To the End of the Land is about an Israeli mother Ora, whose son has volunteered to extend his duty in the IDF. They had planned on hiking around the Gailee together but he bails on her. She decides to go with the boy's father, in a bargain with herself, that if she shares her son's memory with him he'll be kept alive.

She believes if she isn't there to here he's been killed, he won't be.


This book is like getting a punch in the gut. I have a feeling the answer to relationships, family or romantic, lies somewhere deep within the pages of this book. The power of the mind isn't in magical thinking to prevent death [but who hasn't made a bargain in their mind for something they really don't want to happen] but in destroying relationships or deceiving ourselves.

The underlining current I keep coming back to is where Avram gave up on himself and forced Ilan to take all the things he couldn't have for himself, because he didn't think he deserved them. He did himself a huge disservice, but an even bigger one to Ora. The letters he wrote to Ora, that she didn't love him, that she needed an Alpha male, even telling her that Ilan would not like someone who loved him that much he didn't know was so insulting to Ora. She needed gentleness in her life.

Ora did the same thing but with her family. She didn't think she was smart enough for the men in her life. People can poison their own capacity or potentional with doubt and insecurities. One girl did leave Avram because he was "too emotional". Ora had to remind herself not to drown others and hold back.

The scene that will stick with me forever is the memory of hiding in her mother's wardrobe and discovering her mother beats herself. Ora's mother was her harshest critic, which Ora does to herself as well. I fretted the entire book wondering why her family hated her that much. She was a bit smothering, but then why was she an unnatural mother? She loved them all too much to be unnatural. She blamed herself for things that were beyond her control.

I felt this book captured perfectly the disappointments families bring on each other and the cycle of putting ones hopes on another person. 
Who doesn't look back and realise where they went wrong or that moment of not being unconditional. Is it possible not to put expectations on to your loved ones? While it was Ilan who harshly judged the children growing up with labels, silently Ora was doing the same thing, but with her high expectations. She was able to inspire Ilan with the possibilities rather than rigid "This is how it will be", but was let down by herself in the end. Her mother had such low standards for her doing so was a promise Ora made to herself in the closet. That she'd have the perfect family. Ofer became disillusioned with her very early on when he discovered she ate meat and he kicked her. Everyone in her life seemed to be punishing her or blaming her for something. Ora was absolutely not to only guilty party of needing, wanting or expecting something out of another person. Avram imagined their family what he desired out of them.
Yes, if the standard had been one-sided they would not have turned their backs on her so. The way only Ilan could cut someone out of his life with the divorce, Ofer reenlisting, or Adam refusing to speak to her. Ora alone didn't bring these high expectations on him. 

The problem was she brought up things they all agreed not to discuss, because she was the one who forgot the way things were for that society to function.

Ora is a difficult character to read, due to her low self-esteem and blindness to important events going on around her. You have to read between the lines and gather the pieces of the stories she shares with Avram. 

How did Ofer avoid the politics with the rampant propaganda and culture? I don't think he did despite refusal to read the newspapers. Politics permeate every aspect of a country that will always be at war, to be a citizen you must kill. 
In his own way, he shared that with Ora. She was blind to so much going on around her. Grossman tells us the Ofer we see through Ora's eyes isn't the entire picture. He had an entire life with his brother she never saw. Where did he become so afraid of Arabs as a kid he slept with a monkey hammer? He was indoctrinated by living in the society they did. You can't shield your kid and keep them innocent living in an apartheid society that treats people like cattle or criminal because of their religion or skin. You will be degraded by participating in that in your very core.
He was asking the wrong questions, when he had her shown him a map of the countries that hated them. He was just a kid then. When did Ofer shut his eyes and never come back around to ask why they will always be at war. He knew they would and told her to leave if he died.
Was it after he chose to reenlist?

It was not possible for Ofer to remain gentle. The episode with raising him to eat meat told us what was coming, but this time didn't fight against it like she wanted him to.
She herself, who didn't speak up for the people so viciously treated by their government, but forgot that it was even happening. We knew what kind of person Ora was by how she treated Sami. Ofer sensed the hypocrisy and demanded of her why she had him drive him to war.

She made a huge mistake taking him to see weapons to calm him down but she never connects this to the pro-military son he becomes. How much of an impact or control can you honestly have on your kids values if you actively go along with this lifestyle? How much was her fault for living where they live [shared crimes from their entire society] and not saying the right things at the right time. Ilan blamed her for his becoming a vegetarian, but it was his return to eating meat that hurt Ora. Ora had the half-foot in and half-foot out. The pleas for him not to kill anyone for his own sake, but disgust for anyone actively engaging in the anti-war demonstrations. She thought this a betrayal of the soldiers, which is the biggest weapon used in American politics to stifle dissent. "Support the troops = allow us to murder millions of innocent people around the world in a never-ending war."

She lived a really deluded life just to live. Most Americans do this so it wasn't a stretch to believe. It was revealed that the war on terror is designed never to end. After all, supposedly Germany didn't know about the concentration camps. So she put it out of her mind that Sami was Arab, what she went along with until the man in the meat locker died. Then she had to face up to what she signed her son up to do by having him.
She still loves him throughout everything, despite their rejection of her, their ridicule, she loves her family. She just had to accept how everyone really was. For Adam, she realised why he had those tics with the water or rhyming words. She had Ofer on a pedestal, hoped he'd save them all perhaps like he saved Adam as a boy, when his parents could not. He saved her marriage the first time around.

Ora's journey through the Galilee opened her eyes to a lifetime of living with her eyes shut. For her son she had to accept all the sides of his being. What was sad is she never does come to terms with herself. There is no coming to terms with what it means to be human, eating meat, killing and torturing people in war, all of that brutality.
You can not control what others do, how they will feel. 
Like in life, she almost comes to the answers on her journey but not quite.
We got the whole package with what it means to love someone else, when you are understood and the joy that comes with it, or the sad and loneliness when those who should understand you don't.