Title:Wherever You Go
Author: Joan Leegant
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Genre: Literary Fiction
Where I got it:The publisher, for review, through TLC Book Tours
Aaron knelt beneath a shaky tree and slid his two gym bags off his shoulders, then looked back. He could hear them murmuring in the dark, Ben Ami's nasal whispers, Davidson's reluctant grunts. He wished they'd hurry up, wished they'd stop arguing so he could forget about their big teary drama and concentrate on what he was meant to do and let God or Shroeder or whoever else be the judge.I have been tossing around how I was going to review this book for the past week or so. I finally settled on beginning with the quote on page 162, which is where the book really came to life for me. The novel is the story of three Americans, tied to Israel, all in different ways. Yona is a New Yorker whose estranged sister is living in a Zionist commune. She goes back to Israel, where she and her sister had their falling out as college students, to try to make amends. Aaron is a young man, trying to escape the influence of his Holocaust novelist father, and to make his own identity in Jerusalem, away from what he sees as his rather pathetic life in the US. Greenglass is a once faithful man, who seems to be slipping, holding on to his tenuous relationships with his family, his past and his religion. He receives an invitation to teach in Israel, where he hopes to leave behind his entanglements and reinvigorate his faith. All of these characters end up meeting, in the second section of the book, and becoming entwined in something bigger than their individual longings that lead them to Jerusalem.
For me, the most compelling of the narratives in Part I of the novel belonged to Greenglass. Each of the characters come to Israel looking for something more, atonement, maybe? Validation? Leegant's book is timely in that it addresses the appeal of radicalism. A character like the young American Aaron is not the typical picture of a "radical," but is perhaps a picture we should consider. I also thought that her prose was sparse, but effective. Even in the short, rather arbitrary passage I've selected above, the economy of words and their effect is clear. That is what I enjoyed about the book.
I also found the last two sections of the book to be emotionally satisfying. I became more attached to the characters that felt distant early in the book and the plot really picked up. I was really ready for the action in the final parts after the build up early in the book. That isn't to say that there wasn't a purpose for the build-up, because I certainly did understand the characters and I wanted to see them all come together.
What didn't work for me was the pacing of the book. The parts that I liked, and wanted to keep reading, were too short, and the buildup to them was too long. Like I said above, the book really began for me just before Part 2, more than halfway through the book. I have read a few books lately where I found shifting perspective to be distracting, and I think I initially felt nervous about that style in this book. However, I soon grew accustomed to the characters, and knew immediately the focus of each chapter.
Overall: I would recommend this book for anyone interested in examinations of faith, or for anyone interested in Israel. In the end, I was glad I read it because I got to meet and know some of the characters; in particular, Greenglass and Yona. I found the stories about family touching in the final pages.
To see other opinions, please visit these other tour stops:
Reviews from the Heart
Tuesday, August 23rd: Life In Review
Thursday, August 25th: Books Like Breathing
Friday, August 26th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, August 29th: Life is Short. Read Fast.
Tuesday, August 30th: Rundpinne
Wednesday, August 31st: Among Stories
Thursday, September 1st: Iwriteinbooks
Monday, September 5th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, September 6th: nomadreader
Wednesday, September 7th: Lit and Life
Thursday, September 8th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Monday, September 12th: In the Next Room
Wednesday, September 14th: Wordsmithonia
Thursday, September 15th: Life in the Thumb
Friday, September 16th: Jenny Loves to Read