News

The Path to Public Service at SEAS

News

Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum

News

Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President

News

Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study

News

Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum

A Sentimental 'Sorrow'

In the Name of Sorrow and Hope by Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof Alfred A. Knopf 180 pp. $21

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

The instant book, once the domain of hack publishers like Dove Books and disreputable semi-authors like Rosa Lopez, is taken to a new level of respectability with In the Name of Sorrow and Hope. Despite the rapidity of its printing (the epilogue is dated March 1996, and it was published on April 8) and its pamphlet length (180 undersized pages), the occasion on which this book seeks to capitalize is considerably more serious than the O.J. trial: it is the memoir of Yitzhak Rabin's granddaughter, the same one who spoke so movingly at his memorial service in November.

As such, it is not the place to look for serious analysis of the Israeli situation, the peace process or the meaning of Rabin's assassination; nor is it likely that the book's audience will want it to be. Instead, In the Name of Sorrow and Hope is, as Publishers' Weekly declares in the book's promotional literature, "filled with the beautiful anguish and sincerity of youth"--it is a chance for the author to memorialize her grandfather while representing Israel to the world in a noncontroversial way.

Ben Artzi-Pelossof's speech at Rabin's memorial service brought her to the world's attention, so that event is naturally the book's starting and ending point. In between, she touches on a number of topics-- Rabin's personal manner, her experience of growing up in Israel in times of war and strife, a trip to Auschwitz and her life in the army--in a style that is unremittingly sentimental and naive. What interest there is in the book is seldom in the author's treatment of events; rather, the inherent pathos of what she is describing shines through a generally unenlightening description.

Such moments of interest occur at the expected points. Ben Artzi-Pelossof's trip to Auschwitz with Rabin, for example, allows her to relate some gripping stories of Holocaust survivors, such as Samuel Gogol, a harmonica player who was forced by the Nazis to play in a band in front of Jews being walked to the gas chambers--to this day, he instinctively closes his eyes whenever he plays the harmonica. And some of her domestic anecdotes about Rabin are simple and touching, like the time she and her grandfather were sharing a bed with an electric blanket, and she was awakened by his shouting: "Noa, quickly, get up. I have to change the sheets. Quick! Or else we're going to die, the two of us. Quick! Quick!"

Unfortunately, the book is studded with the author's attempts to make the things she is describing even more touching, a forcing of emotion that can be frankly embarrassing. Her recollection of Samuel Gogol's story, for example, is preceded by this observation: "Fifty years later, birds still do not sing in Auschwitz. Was it just my impression? No, other people noticed the same thing: there are no birds in Auschwitz." And while it would be churlish to fault her expression of her grief for her grandfather, it is just those most powerful and universal emotions that are hardest to bring to life on the page; no 19-year-old author could do more than gesture towards them.

The other component of the book is a kind of good-will propaganda for Israel. If one audience for In the Name of Sorrow and Hope is American Jews who are already sympathetic to Israel, the other is that mass of Americans and Europeans whose idea of Israel has been formed by the horrifying TV images of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising. Hoping to capitalize on the reserves of sympathy she created with her eulogy, Ben Artzi-Pelossof paints a humane picture of Israel and its people. She repeatedly explains her and her friends' desire for peace, their integration into Western culture (MTV and McDonald's pop up frequently), their intimate experiences with war and the army and their respect for democracy. By the same token, she demonizes Yigal Amir and the religious fanaticism which produced him as a cancer in the midst of a generally well-meaning population: "[The assassin] was just a gun, a robot deprived of any human identity, someone who had been indoctrinated by a well-oiled system of hate, a system that was deeply ingrained in our society."

At the same time, she defends Israel's wariness in dealing with its Arab neighbors. In recounting a goodwill trip to England, she repeats for our benefit the analogy she used with the British high-schoolers: "'Israel is as big as Wales,' I would say, 'but is has only half the population of London. So imagine half the Londoners spread across Wales and there you have Israel.... Now if you look at a map of the world, you'll see that all the Arab countries together cover an area the size of the United States. Then take Wales and compare. So it's as if the United States were surrounding and threatening Wales. That's why we feel so small and exposed and have to be ready to defend ourselves.'" It is a fair exposition of the Israeli mindset, and it couldn't have a more sympathetic exponent.

In the Name of Sorrow and Hope is exactly what one would expect it to be. Those who want a capsule introduction to Israel's view of itself, and those who want to display their support for Israel, Rabin and peace, will be well served by it.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags