Sunday, May 8, 2016

To Jerusalem and Back [1976]

A nation doesn’t exist in vacuum, with Israel being a classic example of this maxim. Speaking either of its complex history or its troubled geo-political presence entail also touching upon Palestine, West Bank and Sinai, upon Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and for that matter, upon the US, Soviet Union, and Europe. To Jerusalem and Back, Saul Bellow’s discursive, impassioned and immersive memoir on his visit to the country during the mid-70s, and written in the form of a journalistic diary, is the second-generation Jewish emigrant’s attempts at discovering the “real” Israel, bereft of effusive nationalism, prejudiced harangues or pat judgements that are not just self-defeating but also reckless and dangerous. He spent many months in the country, and consequently the book succeeded in being a powerful yet a rational synthesis of the various people he met and interacted with – politicians, writers, poets, professors, kibbutzniks, Jews, Arabs, journalists, friends, common folk, Conservatives, Marxists, humanitarians – along with his impressions from the myriad books and articles that he has read on the country’s past and present. From Rabin to Kissinger, from Amos Oz to Sartre, from Warsaw ghetto to Russian Gulags, a huge arc was traversed in this valiant attempt of his. It, therefore, was as much a sun-washed account of people and places, and sights and sounds, as it was a perceptive and anti-partisan meditation on existence, morality, survival, violence, wars, dirty international realpolitik, and of course, Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinian Question. Bellow’s mastery in infusing moments of reflection and melancholia, with chuckling observations and crackling wit, made this journey from Chicago to Jerusalem and back as much a physical travelogue as a spiritual one. By the time one reaches the final page, I felt saturated at the series of viewpoints and references contained within its covers, and enthralled by the multiple ‘truths’ and perspectives that are relevant not just to the topic at hand but also similar geo-political complexities around the world.

Author: Saul Bellow
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir/Travelogue/Political History/Montage
Language: English
Country: US

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