Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of the great immigrant sagas, The Lion Seeker
brings us Isaac Helger, son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, surviving the streets of Johannesburg in the shadow of World War II
Are you a stupid or a clever?
Such is the refrain in Isaac Helgers mind as he makes his way from redheaded hooligan to searching adolescent to striving young man on the make. His mothers question haunts every choice. Are you a stupid or a clever? Will you find a way to lift your family out of Johannesburgs poor inner city, to buy a house in the suburbs, to bring your aunts and cousins from Lithuania?
Isaacs mother is a strong woman and a scarred woman; her maimed face taunts him with a past no one will discuss. As World War II approaches, then falls upon them, they hurtle toward a catastrophic reckoning. Isaac must make decisions that, at first, only seem to be life-or-death, then actually are.
Meanwhile, South Africas history, bound up with Europes but inflected with its own accents—Afrikaans, Zulu, Yiddish, English—begins to unravel. Isaacs vibrant, working-class, Jewish neighborhood lies near the African slums; under cover of night, the slums are razed, the residents forced off to townships. Isaacs fortune-seeking takes him to the privileged seclusion of the Johannesburg suburbs, where he will court forbidden love. It partners him with the unlucky, unsinkable Hugo Bleznick, selling miracle products to suspicious farmers. And it leads him into a feud with a grayshirt Afrikaaner who insidiously undermines him in the auto shop, where Isaac has found the only work that ever felt true. And then his mothers secret, long carefully guarded, takes them to the diamond mines, where everything is covered in a thin, metallic dust, where lions wait among desert rocks, and where Isaac will begin to learn the bittersweet reality of success bought at truly any cost.
A thrilling ride through the life of one fumbling young hero, The Lion Seeker is a glorious reinvention of the classic family and coming-of-age sagas. We are caught — hearts open and wrecked — between the urgent ambitions of a mother who knows what it takes to survive and a son straining against the responsibilities of the old world, even as he is endowed with the freedoms of the new.
"Israeli novelist Grossman returns with an epic yet intimate story of an Israeli family and the shadow of war that haunts it. A love triangle between Ora, Avram, and Ilan ends when Avram returns to war, and Ora settles down with Ilan to raise two sons. But when her youngest is called to duty, Ora flees for Galilee, dragging with her Avram, who, deeply scared by his experience as a POW during the Yom Kippur War, has refused contact with her for years. Their shared history poignantly reveals the way conflict, war, and the loss of humanity have traumatized generations of people living in this region. Grossman, whose own soldier son was killed during the writing of this novel, connects a wide-reaching canvas of battles and bombings to the intimate realities of the relationships among family and friends. Although the atmosphere of paranoia and the flood of details can overwhelm, they also connect the reader to the characters so hypnotically that this nearly 600-page literary novel reads like a thriller. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
A "thought provoking collection... Filled with tension and allegory, Oz's perceptive tales explore the nuance and alienation of transitioning states."
--Booklist "Finely wrought... Oz writes characterizations that are subtle but surgically precise, rendering this work a powerfully understated treatment of an uneasy Israeli conscience."
-Publishers Weekly, starred "Highly recommended."
-Library Journal, starred UK Praise for SCENES FROM VILLAGE LIFE: "An impressive and very affecting achievement...These stories, in their humanity, may do more for Israel than any of the decisions we have been led to expect of its leaders in the months to come."
-New Statesman "One of the most powerful books you will read about present-day Israel."
"What a rare and splendid achievement this novel is—emotionally gripping, intellectually challenging, deftly plotted, skillfully composed, and vibrantly alive with the images and sounds and textures and human flurry of another time and place. I was dazzled. And I was moved."
"[Isaac's] is a story of fighting and deciding what's worth fighting for, of cultivating a strength that doesn't erase empathy. . . The pages turn quickly, with suspenseful prose and colorful vernacular dialogue that could easily be used in a blockbuster film."
"[The Lion Seeker] will grab readers everywhere with the story of the struggling refugees in a new country, the horror they escaped from, and the guilt about those left behind, with secrets not revealed until the very end. . . The immigrant family struggle comes across as universal, whether concerning radicals or the ultra-Orthodox. . . A great choice for book-group discussion."
"South African-born Canadian writer Bonert serves up a latter-day Exodus in this debut novel."
"Kenneth Bonerts raw and ambitious novel of working-class Jewish life in South Africa in the 1930s and 40s...[an] ambitious and unruly novel."
"Here is the South African novel I've been waiting for. Kenneth Bonert tells it true, not safe. His protagonist is worthy of Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the South Africa he gives us vivid, raw, dangerous, shot through with moral complexity."
—Lynn Freed, author of House of Women and The Servants' Quarters
"The Lion Seeker is a powerful and thoroughly engrossing novel, grand in scope, richly imagined, full of dramatic incident, and crafted in a prose that is by turns roughhewn and lyrical. To read it is to be reminded how great a great novel can be."
—David Bezmozgis, author of The Free World and Natasha: And Other Stories
"A remarkably assured debut, The Lion Seeker is a riveting, lyrical, and profound journey towards the intersection of private lives and public destinies. Kenneth Bonert has all the makings of a major novelist."
—Charles Foran, author of Mordecai: The Life and Times
"The Lion Seeker is no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle-fight raw. A historical novel that feels desperately current; a Rosenburg and Juliet love story shorn of all sentiment; a stock-taking of human brutality and its flip side, our capacity to reach beyond our limitations and be better, all rendered in prose so expert, so fine honed that it belies the adjective ‘debut. It joins classics like J.M. Coetzees Disgrace and Rian Malans My Traitors Heart in the canon, and renders the South African experience universal. A first-round knock-out for Kenneth Bonert."
—Richard Poplak, author of Ja No Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa
"This powerful novel begins with a mystery that propels its characters through their difficult lives in prewar South Africa and haunts their actions until a dramatic and searing climax based on the Holocaust in Lithuania. The Lion Seeker is vivid and illuminating, astonishing in its range and toughness, and simultaneously an expression of love and regret for all that has been lost."
—Antanas Sileika, author of Underground and Woman in Bronze and Director of the Humber School for Writers
Praise from abroad for The Lion Seeker:
"An emotional tour de force that plumbs the depths of human hope, fear, guilt, and rage, and bears all the hallmarks of a masterwork."
"A titanic novel. . . An epic, a vast story about a rarefied subject: the community of Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated to South Africa before World War II. . . Mazel tov, Kenneth Bonert, you have written a blockbuster of a book."
—Toronto Star (Canada)
"Bonert's prose is sharp and masterful, clipping along at a breathless pace while still managing to wow us with imagery, clever turns of phrase and believable dialogue peppered with several languages."
—Globe and Mail (Canada)
"The Lion Seeker is astonishingly mature, admirably incautious. It moves with the sleight-of-hand of the born artist, ramping up for naked tugs at the heart. . . It's visually and thematically sweeping, rich with diverse personalities, packed with tender waves and roiling crests of love, loss, hope, hatred. It casts its bit players (even a final-act dog) as deftly as its stars. . . This novel, quite apart from what it might become, remains completely and thrillingly itself."
—National Post (Canada)
"If not for the setting-South Africa in the 1930s and '40s-the novel's hapless protagonist could have been plucked from the doom-laden pages of Thomas Hardy. . . The Lion Seeker, like its 19th-century literary forebears, is larded with enough plot twists, reversals of fortune, and revelations of family secrets to keep many readers engrossed."
—Quill & Quire (Canada)
A novel of extraordinary power about the costs of war from one of Israel’s greatest writers.
Ora is about to celebrate her son Ofer’s release from Israeli army service when he voluntarily rejoins. In a fit of magical thinking, she takes off to hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the “notifiers” who might deliver the worst news a parent can hear. Recently estranged from her husband, she drags along an unlikely companion: their once best friend Avram, who was tortured as a POW during the Yom Kippur War and, in his brokenness, refused to ever know the boy or even to keep in touch with them.
Now, as they hike, Ora unfurls the story of her motherhood and initiates the lonely Avram in the drama of the human family—a telling that keeps Ofer alive for both his mother and the reader. Her story places the most hideous trials of war alongside the daily joys and anguish of raising children: never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, the burdens that fall on each generation anew.
Grossman’s rich imagining of a family in love and crisis makes for one of the great antiwar novels of our time.
From one of Israels most acclaimed writers comes a novel of extraordinary power about family life—the greatest human drama—and the cost of war.
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofers release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the “notifiers” who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days leave being offered by their commander—a chance act that sent Avram into Egpyt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy. Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, ford rivers, and cross valleys, avoiding all news from the front, she gives him the gift of Ofer, word by word; she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora and for the reader, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a “war and peace” rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the joys and anguish of raising children. Never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, and the burdens that fall on each generation anew.
Grossmans rich imagining of a family in love and crisis makes for one of the great antiwar novels of our time.
A portrait of a fictional village, by one of the worlds most admired writers In the village of Tel Ilan, something is off kilter. An elderly man complains to his daughter that he hears the sound of digging under his house at night. Could it be his tenant, a young Arab? But then the tenant hears the mysterious digging sounds too. The mayor receives a note from his wife: "Dont worry about me." He looks all over, no sign of her. The veneer of new wealth around the villagegourmet restaurants and art galleries, a winerycannot conceal abandoned outbuildings, disused air raid shelters, rusting farm tools, and trucks left wherever they stopped. Amos Ozs novel-in-stories is a brilliant, unsettling glimpse of what goes on beneath the surface of everyday life.Scenes from Village Lifeis a parable for Israel, and for all of us.
A novel in stories by acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz.
“Informed by everything, weighed down by nothing, this is an exquisite work of art.” —The Scotsman
Strange things are happening in Tel Ilan, a century-old pioneer village. A disgruntled retired politician complains to his daughter that he hears the sound of digging at night. Could it be their tenant, that young Arab? But then the young Arab hears the digging sounds too. Where has the mayors wife gone, vanished without trace, her note saying “Dont worry about me”? Around the village, the veneer of new wealth—gourmet restaurants, art galleries, a winery—barely conceals the scars of war and of past generations: disused air raid shelters, rusting farm tools, and trucks left wherever they stopped. Scenes from Village Life is a memorable novel-in-stories by the inimitable Amos Oz: a brilliant, unsettling glimpse of what goes on beneath the surface of everyday life.
Translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange
In the tradition of the great immigrant sagas, The Lion Seeker brings us Isaac Helger, son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, surviving the streets of Johannesburg in the shadow of World War II
About the Author
was born in Jerusalem in 1939. He is the author of fourteen novels and collections of short fiction, and numerous works of nonfiction. His acclaimed memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness
was an international bestseller and recipient of the prestigious Goethe prize, as well as the National Jewish Book Award. Scenes from Village Life
, a New York Times
Notable Book, was awarded the Prix Méditerranée Étranger in 2010. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Nicholas de Lange is a professor at the University of Cambridge and a renowned translator. He has translated Amos Ozs work since the 1960s.
Table of Contents
Heirs • 1
Relations • 19
Digging • 39
Lost • 83
Waiting • 109
Strangers • 129
Singing • 153
In a faraway place at another time • 175
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of To the End of the Land, David Grossman’s powerful, deeply moving novel about life during endless wartime.
1. What one word would you use to describe the central theme of this novel? Is it a political novel?
2. In an interview, Grossman said about grief, “The first feeling you have is one of exile. You are being exiled from everything you know.” How do both grief and exile figure into this story?
3. Throughout the novel is the notion of tapestry, of threads being woven. What does that tapestry signify?
4. What do you think was Grossman’s intent with the prologue? What did this opening lead you to expect from the rest of the novel? Was it significant to you as a reader, later in the story, to have known these characters as teenagers?
5. On page 21, Ora says, “I’m no good at saving people.” Why does she say this? Is it true?
6. What function does Sami serve in the novel? What do we learn about Ora through her interactions with him?
7. Why does Ora consider Ofer’s reenlistment to be a betrayal? Why do his whispered, on-camera instructions affect her so strongly?
8. Discuss Adam’s assertion that Ora is “an unnatural mother” (page 98). What do you think he means by that? What does Ora take it to mean?
9. On page 134, Ora tells Sami to drive “to where the country ends.” His reply: “For me it ended a long time ago.” What does he mean by that? How does this change your interpretation of the novel’s title?
10. What is the significance of Ofer’s film, in which there are no physical beings, only their shadows?
11. In both Adam and Ofer, the influence of nature vs. nurture seems quite fluid. How is each like his biological father, and how does each resemble the man to whom he is not related by blood?
12. What role does food play in the novel? What does vegetarianism, especially, signify?
13. On pages 284–85, Ora says to Avram, “Just remember that sometimes bad news is actually good news that you didn’t understand. Remember that what might have been bad news can turn into good news over time, perhaps the best news you need.” What is she hoping for here? Does her advice turn out to be accurate?
14. Why does Ora refuse to go back for her notebook? As a reader, could you identify with Ora’s actions? What about elsewhere in the novel?
15. What do we learn about Ora, Ilan, and Ofer through the story of Adam’s compulsive behavior? What is “the force of no” (page 398)?
16. Discuss the significance of whose name Ora draws from the hat. Did she choose that person intentionally? How might the lives of Ora, Ilan, and Avram have been different if the other name were drawn?
17. Why does Ora react so strongly to what happened with Ofer in Hebron? How does it relate to what happened to Avram as a POW? Why does her reaction lead to the implosion of her family?
18. When Ora says to Avram, “Maybe you’ll even have a girl” (page 572), what is she really saying?
19. Discuss the final scene of the novel. What does Avram’s vision signify? Was Ora’s motivation for the hike wrong, as she fears?
20. How did Grossman’s personal note at the end change your experience of the novel? What seems possible for Ora and Avram, and the other characters in the book, at the end of the story?