I love a bit of non-fiction, and I've always found books about other cultures and religions particularly fascinating. When you combine that with history, politics and biography, you're pretty much on to a winner, and that's what Shavit does here. Through the sharing of his family history and that of important Israeli figures, Ari Shavit tells the story of Israel from the initial campaign to set up a Jewish state to the present day. It's all there, from Zionism to the communal camps or kibbutzim, to the twentieth century wars, the building of the settlements and the Palestinian intifadas. Shavit also considers the future of Israel and the issues it faces as it moves forward into the twenty-first century.
My Promised Land is truly an excellent piece of non-fiction. It contains a lot of history and politics, but it's all blended together with reflections and interviews and thoughts, and this makes it wonderfully easy to read and absorb. Picking up this book never felt like a chore, and the easy going writing style made it perfect for someone like me, who has a little bit of knowledge of Israel but who would like to know more. Although it contains a lot of information, it never feels overly stuffy or academic, and it remains completely engaging throughout.
Israel is a topic that tends to elicit strong opinions and this means it can be quite hard for someone who is completely uninvolved to find something factual and balanced. I'm not Jewish or Muslim, and I'm not invested strongly in either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although Shavit's book is inherently biased from his point of view of a proud left-leaning Israeli, this bias is acknowledged and addressed through his interviews with others. We hear directly from a displaced Palestinian, a nuclear scientist, a founder of the settlements and a Jewish terrorist. Shavit reflects on the views of all the participants, but he isn't overly judgemental and the commentary is thoughtful.
In fact, that's what I liked most about this book; it made me think. It doesn't attempt to reduce a complex political situation to a black and white interpretation, rather it exposes how complicated it is and highlights all of the shades of grey. I knew the basics of Israeli history before reading My Promised Land, but I have a much better understanding of the nuances and the motivations of different groups now. It's a thoughtful book for readers who like to be challenged to think and decide for themselves, and I highly recommend it.
Source: From the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Published: November 2013
Score: 5 out of 5