Thinking Aloud: “My Promised Land”

June 22, 2015 by Darius 

I recently read My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Israeli journalist Ari Shavit.  My Promised Land was much heralded when it first came out and attempts to chronicle the entire scope of the Israeli experience (or “Israeli Dream,” if you will) from the 1920s to the present.  Unfortunately, by and large, the book does not live up to the hype.

The first section of the book, covering Jewish migration to and community building in Palestine before 1948, is borderline unreadable.  For reasons that remain inexplicable to me, Shavit chose to narrate this section in a lurid, over-the-top writing style.  Perhaps because events in this section happened so long ago and Shavit was unable to conduct as many interviews, he felt the need to jazz it up.  Or perhaps he felt it unpatriotic to narrate Israel’s founding story in anything short of extravagant, purple prose.  In any event, when I started reading this part of the book aloud to my companions to explain what I was talking about, they literally begged me to stop.  You might want to skip this section.

Fortunately for its readers, My Promised Land improves significantly as Shavit approaches the present.  In fact, it is one of the best books I have come across in portraying different sections of modern Israeli society, from the Sephardic religious party Shas to the Tel Aviv party scene.  Shavit’s tendency towards moral agonizing and waxing eloquent never fully goes away, though, and detracts from the book throughout.

In summary, I’ve read better books on the arc of Israeli history — Like Dreamers by Yossi Klein Halevi comes to mind.  However, My Promised Land is a good guide to the last few decades of Israel.


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