Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass

Spoilers, kind of.

In our post-911 world, it is sometimes hard to remember that terrorists are humans just as we are. This novel was difficult to read because we got to know the terrorists, Omar and Sameh, as well as we get to know their victims. Both boys are sixteen-year-old Palestinians living on the outskirts of Jerusalem. As Sameh tells us, "All over the world sixteen is paradise, opportunity, girls, cars, everything. I watch television in Omar's house and see sixteen... Here sixteen is the magic age of death... A sixteen-year-old is a walking grave. Why give a job to someone about to die? Kids who explode themselves and kill Israelis have no future, so don't give them a future" (22). His family is living in poverty and so Sameh has found work illegally with a Jewish man willing to pay him under the table so that Sameh can provide for his mother and siblings. When Omar tells him that if he becomes a shaheed, a suicide bomber, his family will be provided for forever, Sameh decides to sign on for the task and blow up a bus at a popular stop where there are often a large number of soldiers. When the time comes, Sameh sees that there is a mother with a newborn and cannot go through with the bombing. Unfortunately, Omar is on a van trailing the bus and goes through with detonating the bomb.

The other characters that we get to know are all living on a Kibbutz that they have escaped to for their various reasons. Lidia had to flee from her home in Argentina. Baruch Ben Tov, an elderly Holocaust survivor, finds comfort in his work as the Kibbutz' head gardener. Vera moved to the Kibbutz because her lover had killed himself and she needed to find something that would give her own life meaning after she was left behind. Thomas is a teenager whose Grandfather was a Nazi in WWII that is traveling to the Kibbutz at the beginning of the novel to find out what his grandfather did and to do something positive for the Jewish community as means of some kind of apology he feels that he owes for his predecessors. Vera picks Thomas up at the airport to take him to the Kibbutz but on the way back they both end up on the bus that is Omar and Sameh's target.

Real Time is written so that the perspective is constantly jumping from one character to another so that you get everyone's back stories in bits and pieces and you experience all of their grief and shock in a personal way. Reading the book made me extremely emotional because it was believable and written in a way that the reader could easily become invested in the characters--even the characters that weren't easy to like or understand. What I found to be the most touching was the interaction between Baruch Ben Tov and Thomas. At the beginning of the novel, Baruch is understandably apprehensive about working with a young German boy but still carefully lays out his visitors' room so that he will feel welcome. When Thomas is wounded and in the hospital, Baruch is the one that visits with him and takes care of him, speaking in Thomas' own language to bring the boy comfort despite feeling that the language and everything that went with it has been a harsh intrusion into his own life.

The climax is the bombing of course, but the most significant part of the book is what comes after when the characters are all trying to heal and work their way through what has happened. At the end of the book, a new voice is brought in, and another attack is being planned to illustrate the cycle is never ending. It wasn't the way that I wanted the book to end but given that the world we live in is such a dangerous place it is probably the only way the book could end realistically.

I think that this is a very important text. We often try to protect young adults from the realities of the world that we live in but I don't know that that's what is best for them. I think that exposing them to truth, even if it is through a fictional work such as this, is the best way to help them so that the world doesn't seem as shocking when they have to accept it as it is all at once later on.

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