The novel opens with Sarah in Gush Katif in Gaza in 2005, as the IDF arrives to expel her family from the place the Israeli government once sent them to live:
I laugh when the soldiers knock on our front door. The knocks are as gentle as those of the soldiers who came to announce my brother’s death three years ago. I look at his portrait hanging in the dining room, the one with him kneeling on the beach in his beat-up army T-shirt. Aaron’s eyes, hazel like mine, tell me to hold on.
This will be over soon. We’ll get the ending we’re praying for: a thanksgiving celebration to God for overturning the decree of the Expulsion. My father, mother, brother, sister, and I quickly form a line in our foyer. I imagine Aaron standing with us. I won’t let you down, I tell him silently. I laugh not because I’m optimistic but because this can’t be real.
The whole operation feels like a cosmic movie, a drama meant to re-create Jewish suffering in real time so that we can relive our tragic history, only this time with a deus ex machina. Our mantra would appear at the end: “Jews Don’t Expel Jews.”
The foreign press is on hand to capture this Oscar-worthy conflict for all time: soldiers of Tzahal, the Israel Defense Forces, knocking on the doors of Jewish families to expel them from their homes. God couldn’t have chosen a better director, the Prime Minister who once promised never to take us out of here. And what more dramatic timing for our siege days ago than Tisha B’av, the saddest Jewish holiday, when we fast to commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Only I didn’t feel sad. I sensed the redemption.
The redemption doesn’t happen.
After she is dragged from her home, completely disillusioned by the Jewish army her brother died serving, disappointed by both God and country, she heads to Tel Aviv, and into an intense romance with Ziv Harel, the charismatic, liberal owner of a nightclub, where she will immerse herself in dance –- and a relationship that will result in both of them confronting their respective values and identities, in a setting as charged as today’s news.
The novel is beautifully written, worth reading for the story (and the larger story) still playing out eight years after the disengagement from Gaza that was supposed, in the words of Ehud Olmert, to be redemptive.
Here is a two-minute video of Orit Arfa discussing her novel: