Tuesday, 9 April 2013
The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
I had mixed feelings about this book, although the good outweighed the bad. I just loved the blunt, forward tone of the narration and found it extremely refreshing. The People of Forever are Not Afraid is not a 'nice' book, it's brutal in places but it's abrupt and feels raw and honest. There's no purple prose, just soldiers dying from Russian Roulette, girls shooting ice water into their veins and teenagers playing with guns. Parts of the narrative were written in a stream of consciousness style, and Boianjiu is very good at portraying how the emotional crises of being a young adult can be amplified by the militaty setting;
"I tried and I tried to pretend that I was an olive tree. I told myself that I lived, and I lived, and even when there were tumours exploding under my bones and predators eating out my eyes, I thought I'd die but I didn't. I stood frozen, eyes open, my arms misshapen in the air; I tried forever to be an olive tree, I swear."
The first half of the book was the most compelling as it dealt with the girls being conscripted and their experiences during training and their first posting. This was all completely fascinating and Boianjiu maintained ambiguity about the morality of what the three main characters were doing. I read with interest about learning to withstand poison gas, learning how to shoot accurately, and how to check Palestinan border permits. The book at this point was still a collection of stories, but they all hung together coherently around a common theme.
However, in the second half of the book, the narrative thread became too loose as Boianjiu wrote about what happened to the girls after the war, after the army. The book meanders between the characters almost aimlessly and a number of new perspectives were introduced. Yael, Avishag and Lea seemed to blend into each other, until I had trouble telling them apart. I don't mind a book that's really a collection of stories, but I need more connection than this.
If I was just judging on the first half of the book, I would be giving an extremely high rating for the bluntness and emotional rawness of the narrative tone. I loved that, and think Boianjiu is a very talented writer. Unfortunately, the second half was too meandering for me. I would still recommend this book though, I've read nothing like it before.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5
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I can't read your post yet - this is a book I have on my have to get list.... I'll come back to this once I've got my copy and read it!ReplyDelete
I have The Red Book sitting on my desk, ready to post - found it underneath everything when I cleared the decks this afternoon... Just need your new address.
Just emailed you, thanks for the reminder :)Delete
Hope you enjoy The People of Forever.
This book intrigued me last year at BEA during the Editors' Book Buzz panel. But I confess that I had a hard time getting into it. Maybe I'll have to give it another try...ReplyDelete
The beginning was the easiest part for me to get into, maybe it's not a book for you? It's definitely an intriguing concept though.Delete
It's such a let down when the 2nd half of a book doesn't match up the 1st. But it's good to see that you'd recommend it anyway. I'll keep my eyes open for this one :)ReplyDelete
It's an unusual book, so I still think it's worth picking up. Just don't expect a traditional narrative!Delete
I can see the author's intent in showing what happens to the soldiers after they leave the army, but I can understand how it would fall flat in comparison. I think I will still give this one a try - I'm really interested in the culture of Israel and the idea of mandatory service for everyone.ReplyDelete
Thanks for a thoughtful review! :)
The intent was good, and it would have worked if she had stuck to the three central characters rather than adding in additional point of views. Israel is fascinating, I love to read about it.Delete
Booooooooooooo -- great review -- so disappointed the oomph doesn't continue through the whole novel. I'm dying to read this one and probably still will -- but will temper my expectations now.ReplyDelete
It's still worth picking up, Audra. Just don't expect a traditional story!Delete
This is one of the long listers that is the most intriguing to me. I read the first chapter and liked it, but haven't had the time to finish. I will probably get around to it soon especially if it makes the short list. Do you think it has a chance?ReplyDelete
I think it does have a chance but generally the Orange Prize shortlisted books have been traditional in structure in the past. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it there.Delete
I was really interested in this book, too, but I read many people with similar feelings. There seems to be something just a little off for a lot of readers with this one. I'm still really intrigued by some of the stories you mention from the beginning, though, it almost makes me want to pick it up.ReplyDelete
I've not read too many other reviews of it yet, so I'm glad to see I'm not alone in my impressions of the book.Delete
I've been reading your reviews of the longlist books and seems like so far working through it isn't as great as the honor of being chosen would suggest. Hope things start looking up soon!ReplyDelete
Yes, I've not had too much luck with them yet. I obviously haven't read the winner yet, it's still there waiting for me :)Delete
I sometimes get annoyed when I really like a book and at the end it lets me down.ReplyDelete
Me too, but the overall reading experience of this one was positive.Delete
I agree with you that at the second half of the book, all three characters start to blur and I have to backtrack a few times and even writing my review to confirm who says what. Not a good ending but I agree it is nothing like what I read before too! :)ReplyDelete
I'm glad I'm not the only one who found the girls blurred into each other. I wonder if they were all based on the author's experiences?Delete