cover image Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation

Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation

Edited by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Harper Perennial, $16.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-243178-3

Authors Waldman and Chabon, together with the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza, have compiled a hefty volume of essays about life in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. The results vary, but the message is unwavering: life under occupation is frightening and oppressive. Strong efforts include Geraldine Brooks’s opening piece, about two Palestinian children caught up in cyclical violence. Rachel Kushner draws out the unsavory subject of Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence. Chabon himself addresses the curbs placed on Palestinian commerce and how this also redefines the Palestinian experience of “normal life.” But other writers see the occupation through self-involved lenses, and Waldman, in her wrenching account of detained children and their training in nonviolent resistance, seems to only belatedly realize that the attention she gives her sources adds to their troubles. Because of the limits of the NGO’s network, the same anti-occupation activists repeat their roles as informants and show up in multiple essays, reinforcing the situation’s grinding hopelessness. Hannah Barag, an Israeli octogenarian and checkpoint monitor, is a rare voice of prediction amid the general feeling of stasis: “I think the system is going to collapse.” Agent: Mary Evans, Mary Evans Inc. (May)