Friday, January 30, 2009

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea...random thoughts

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti.

Again with the short and sweet here.

I really, really wanted to like this book. Okay, that's a dumb thing to say, because of course, I want to like every book I read. But still, do you know what I mean? I hoped this book would be simply wonderful, because it involves such important issues.

Because of this, I have to admit when I first began reading, I was a bit disappointed. It started out feeling so cliche. Tal Levine, a 17-year-old Israeli girl, begins writing after a suicide bomber blows up a cafe in her neighborhood. A diary sorts. She feels nearly compelled to write. As she says:

When the fear comes back, like now, we all seem to forget who we are. We all become potential victims, bodies that could end up lifeless and covered in blood just because someone chose to blow themselves up right next to us. I want to know who I am, what I'm made of. What would make my death any different from any other? If I said that to my parents or friends, they'd be really shocked and would tell me gently that I needed to rest. That must be why I've decided to write: so I don't frighten the others with what's going on inside my head...and don't let them declare me a raving lunatic.

Tal decides to reach out in the only way she can think putting a letter in a bottle and throwing it into the Gaza Sea. She imagines that a Palestinian girl her own age will find the letter, and that they'll begin this amazing friendship through e-mails.

But it's not a girl who finds her letter. Gazaman, as he calls himself, seems angry and bitter and sarcastic. See what I mean about stereotypes--the sweet, peace-loving Israeli girl and the angry, hate-filled Palestinian boy.

Gazaman also writes in a journal of sorts. But a journal he can't keep. He explains his reasons:

I get angry very quickly if I think too much, but I don't want to stop thinking. My head is the only place where no Tsahal soldier, no guy from Hamas, and not even my father or my mother can get in. My head is my home, my only home, a bit small for everything I've got to put inside it, and that's why I started writing, several years ago now. I didn't have to wait for that spoiled little Tal from Jerusalem to get me started. I write and then I burn the paper, tear it up, soak it, and throw it down the toilet; I'm too frightened someone will find it. But at least it does me some good, it soothes me a bit. There are too many people I hate, too may people stopping me from living my life, and too many signs (which aren't actually there but I can see all over the place) that say: EVERYTHING IS BANNED.

And it is through Tal's and Gazaman's "diaries" that we read part of the story. The other part is read through their e-mails. As this "conversation" between them begins, I have to admit that I was still feeling a bit let-down. It felt too pat, too unoriginal. But guess what--I am so very grateful that I stuck with the book. Somewhere along the way, it seemed to grow in depth. I began to see these characters as more than caricatures. Tal experienced a life changing event and grew. And while she didn't lose her yearning for peace, she did lose some of her naivete. And as the book moves forward, we get to know much more about Gazaman and his life. He is, in reality, far from the stereotype we are first introduced to.

So, in the end, I found this a satisfying read. Not perfect, but well worth the time it took to read.


Nymeth said...

It's too bad this wasn't as good as you were hoping it'd be, but I'm glad to hear the characters gained depth as the book went along. It would have been very disappointing if the book ended up adding to those stereotypes. Good thing that wasn't the case in the end!

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean. It's so disappointing when a book about a crucial topic falls short of expectation!

Grad said...

I just had a similar (only worse) experience in reading a book I was looking forward to. I had to force myself to finish it and never enjoyed any of it. I've got to stop doing that!

Chris said...

Hmmm...I think I'm going to go ahead and still leave this one on my wishlist! It seems interesting enough, though I really do hate book that are overloaded with cliches...they seem so amateurish at best. This one sounds like it still redeems itself though.

Debi said...

It was probably just my own fault...I was hoping to have my socks knocked off. And really, it was worth the read.

It is. But I suspect my expectations were just too high.

That's a lesson I finally learned a couple years ago. And it is so freeing knowing that I've given myself permission to just not finish a book if I'm getting nothing from it.

Definitely do leave it on your list. It's short, and I do think you'll enjoy it. And you know, perhaps that was even the author's intention...lead with the old stereotypes and then gradually break them down. Who knows. I'm now worried that I sounded too hard on the book, because truthfully, I really am glad I read it!

Kim L said...

Interesting. I definitely have those books every so often that I want to like that just don't quite live up to my expectations. Glad it did end up being better towards the end!

Trish said...

I'm glad that this one ended up being a little bit better than you thought it was going to be based on the beginning. I wish I could remember off the top of my head what Bethany thought of the book to compare.