Thursday, October 27, 2011

My take on: Wherever You Go

It took me a little while to see where the characters were going with this book. But eventually I got it. The lives of three Israeli Americans with seemingly no connection in Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant have more in common than they know. In some way all three are questioning what they know.

Yona Stern has returned to Jerusalem from New York, in hopes of reuniting with her estranged sister Dena. Yona betrayed her sister in the worst way, sleeping with the love of her life. Dena had her life all mapped out. Finish college and raise children. Dena is the more practical of the two, while Yona questions everything. Yona expresses her emotion, while Dena seemed to be cold. Yona wanted more than a life of domesticity in Jerusalem. The betrayal leads to a 10-year estrangement. Yona punishes herself in the only way she can, by having affairs with married men. She doesn't have to form an emotional attachment to these men because the relationship is only temporary. Is this kind of life fulfilling? What about her future? Everything she has been running from leads back to Jerusalem. Can a relationship with Dena be salvaged? Will Yona finally find what she is looking for?

Dena isn't the same person. She has five children with another on the way. Even when Yona is allowed in Dena's home, she is still ignored. What is the point of this? Why try to forge a relationship with someone who doesn't want it? Dena also had this air of superiority. She is better than Yona because she has a family and is dedicated to creating a Jewish homeland.

Mark Greenglass is on the right track. After dabbling in drugs and a destructive relationship, Mark has become a successful teacher. He has all of this thanks to his faith. But despite all the good he is doing, Mark doesn't feel he measures up in his father's eyes. His mother, who I found to be slightly eccentric, is always there for him. But it is always hard for Mark to get his father's attention. Mark is constantly questioning his faith.

Aaron Blinder is a college dropout. Some people are more interested in his famous father, a writer known for his books on the Jewish experience. Aaron has no plan. He seemed like a follower rather than a leader. He joins a radical sect. What exactly was the goal of this sect? It took me a little while to figure it out. Eventually it became clear. Pick impressionable youth and fill their heads with propaganda. Aaron forms a plan on his own, separate from the group. He thinks he is become a leader. He thinks he is showing initiative, but is in fact part of a master plan. He is a pawn in a larger game. But Aaron is too self-absorbed to realize that.

The three characters come together in a violent way. One moment changes the life of all of them. The last 70-80 pages were thoroughly engrossing. You get a deep sense of the way of life of another culture. I also can't imagine living this way. Aaron feels it's OK to hate an entire race without provocation. An existence bent on finding your enemies is no way to live. Definitely put this one on your reading list.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (W.W. Norton & Company) at the author's request in exchange for an honest review.

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