Can you write about Israel avoiding the everyday political implications? Hardly if not impossible, unless you are writing a very special dystopia. Despite the political buzz though, can you create good stories to be remember after the political actors are long ousted from the stage? Definitely yes!
The latest book by Nathan Englander, whose What We Talk When We Talk about Anne Frank is a beautiful collection of short stories, is a literary contribution to the never-ending and not always literary productive discussion using Israel, peace, Palestinians as main key-words. What it results from the random mixture of those three words is not necessarily a good combo, from the literary point of view at least. You have a given readership that probably expects you to have a point of view, but you still can write beautiful stories if you focus more on writing beautiful stories not engaged or entincing or attractive stories.
Dinner at the Center of the Earth is made up of different small stories which are interwinning but chopped so drastically, bullet-speed-like, that you can hardly put together the fragments to have a narrative of any kind: you have the story of spy Z - inspired by the Australian-born Mossad agent prisoner X - Z's guard, the guard's mother, the General in coma - Ariel Sharon -, Farid's the Palestinian businessman in Berlin.
You have a bit of a spy story, a kind of historical thread, with Sharon's memories about the founding of the country, even a love story. Maybe with so many variants of truth it is difficult to create a common story, aka co-existence, but isn't it a higher stake for a story?Somehow, I felt that the author is about to embark on a world mission to find the answers of most political secrets - for instance, how was it possible for Sharon to change so much his point of view and accept the Gush Katif - I personally think that it is less a secret but more a matter of adaptability, because politicians follow strategies and the cure for traumatic historical events.
Intentionally or not, some scenes and episodes are ridiculoulsy grotesque, while others are just filling the space of the pages - like in the case of most of Farid story.
Some topics are too big for one single story, and maybe if you want to avoid the cliche you better find more humanity and less politics and ideology to tell it. I was personally partially disappointed about the book which means that there is always a chance of a much better next book by Englander.
Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review