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on 15 July 2008
This excellent first novel authentically explores the motives and feelings behind the conflict in Israel and Palestine as portrayed in the lives and relationship of two American Jewish women and their families. Lisa Saffron has succeeded in presenting one of the world's most intractable and sensitive problems in a highly readable and accessible format. A subtle blend of flashback, narrative, fantasy and historical fact brings to life the reality of the occupation for Palestinians and Israelis.

The destructive consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestine on family life on `both sides of the checkpoint' makes, at times, harrowing reading. The author does not flinch from portraying the violence and heartbreak which accompany this conflict. However, the humour and sympathy she brings to the well-drawn and believable characters and situations invite the reader's understanding rather than judgement.

Political dysfunction and the denial of history are subtly echoed in the description of family dysfunction and the denial of feelings, the high price of which is brought home in Checkpoint. The emotional causes and consequences of the conflict are woven into both the narrative and the plot. Any reader unfamiliar with the reality of life in Israel-Palestine will be shown the surprising extent to which peoples' lives are intertwined and how the consequences of any action reverberate through psyches and relationships on a personal as well as a political level.

Checkpoint is highly recommended reading for anyone who enjoys a well-crafted novel, whether or not they have a prior interest in this issue or have already made up their minds about it . It makes challenging reading for those with fixed ideas of `Zionists' and `Islamists'. In the end the reader is left with a strong and moving reminder of the common humanity that binds us all and makes a mockery of the politics.
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on 15 May 2008
CHECKPOINT by Lisa Saffron : Review.

CHECKPOINT, the impressive and highly original first novel by Lisa Saffron, cannot be called an easy read. The subject matter is often much too stark, too painful for comfort.

Through the distinct voices of its three central characters, it offers an uncompromising exploration of the tragic situation in Israel/Palestine.

Yigal, an Israeli soldier, is killed in a bomb attack. But that is only the beginning of his story. Once dead, he finds himself watching clouds at the Other World Checkpoint, bound forever in an extraordinary and touching
alliance with Aisha, the fiery and passionate Palestinian suicide bomber who brought about his death.Ruth, Yigal's mother, conventional Israeli housewife, driven half mad with grief, mourns him, and, in the process, embarks on an extraordinary inner journey, which will take her from unquestioning acceptance, to an emotional and shocking encounter with Leila, mother of the suicide bomber, in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Vivi, Ruth's friend, is an ardent and proactive advocate of the Palestinian cause, and, as such, poses a threat to David, Ruth's husband, whose unquestioning support of Israel leads him to behave with horrific and shocking violence to those who oppose him or challenge his viewpoint.

Also involved is Orli, Ruth's daughter, who, in the course of the story, comes alive to what is happening in her country, and becomes determined to take an active role in bringing about a more peaceful situation.

The story spans the years from 2002 to 2006.Through the use of memory, surreal sequences and dreams, as well as often shocking factual material, which reads very much like eye witness accounts, we piece together the events of these years in the lives of the characters and in the life of the country.

The author, who is an active member of a Progressive synagogue, has travelled to Israel several times in recent years. The inspiration for the book was her visit to the Middle East with the Compassionate Listening

Her viewpoint, though many may disagree with it, is, I feel, both informed and tolerant. She has an excellent grasp both of her subject matter, and of the wider implications of the conflict.

The credo of the book is "peace with justice', forgiveness and understanding. A realisation that, only by working together for peace can the suffering ever end. The moving force behind this initiative are the
bereaved mothers, both Israeli and Palestinian. In the words of Leila, mother of Aisha:

"But we mothers suffer. We cannot take any more of this needless suffering."

The suffering is seen to exist on both sides. When an Israeli mother loses her beloved son. When a Palestinian mother has to come to terms with the fact that her daughter has martyred herself .When an Israeli mother must accept that her gentle son killed a child. When personal relationships buckle under the strain of the conflict. When houses and lives are destroyed.

It is a very brave and an important book, and an uncompromising one. It is guaranteed to make you think. It may well make you cry. It might even change your mind.

Sheila Yeger: March 2008
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on 28 April 2008
Until reading this book I had, like many others, been horrified and somewhat confused by the bite-sized news flashes about the conflict in Palestine/Israel that I heard on Radio 4. I was horrified by the USA's support of Israel's ruthless attacks on Palestinians and confused about whose land it was anyway, both the areas occupied since 1967 and the boundaries of the state of Israel.

What appealed to me about Checkpoint is that it provides a bottom-up view of the conflict, a thought-provoking insight into how the bitter conflict between Israel and Palestine devastates the lives of all its citizens, families being torn apart by opposing beliefs and death.

It is also a touching story of friendship between women -an American Jewish lesbian passionately supporting the Palestinian cause, an American-born Israeli and a Palestinian woman. As with women living in areas of conflict around the world, they struggle to maintain and nurture their relationships, and thereby build bridges between communities.

The characters are convincing, and Ms Saffron's portrayal of the backdrop to this drama indicates her thorough research and compassionate involvement. The book should come with a warning - don't start reading until you have time to finish the book! The narrative is gripping.

I also liked the fact that the book is optimistic and, through examination of the feelings of the main characters, hints at the author's belief that there will, one day, be a resolution and that, above all, the people caught up in this bloody war want to live in peace.
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on 25 April 2008
Lisa Saffron's book is both moving and powerful. Human stories convey the horror and injustice better than factual books about the Palestinian tragedy.
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