on 9 August 2013
Having just finished reading The Wall, it will take some time to come back to normal life. Not only is the story totally absorbing (at every level, from the personal to the political), but the writing exquisite, so that every description brings emotions, sensations, scenery and actions alive - in fact, I have lived every word of the book. To say I have enjoyed it sounds too trivial; it will be one of the benchmark books by which I measure all further novels, and I cannot believe many others will live up to it, so I will have to stick to non-fiction for a while!
on 17 June 2013
This is a really brilliant book and I would recommend everyone to read it. Written from the view of a young Israeli boy it gives a clear and devastating insight into what effect the Wall has on all the population of Israel and Palestine. It is very readable and moving and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Like Animal Farm, it's called by its author a modern 'fable', but unlike Orwell's work, the characters are human and not animal. 'The Wall' does convey a moral lesson though. In a familiar and yet unfamiliar situation, of a town divided into 'have' and 'have-nots' by a patrolled wall, adolescent Joshua, searching for a lost ball, discovers a hidden tunnel that takes him under the Wall to the other, unknown side of his town. There is discovers a different side to life, different people, and it changes forever how he lives his own.
The story immediately strikes you as Israel/Palestine but these words are not at any time mentioned. It could be any town divided by hate and ignorance.
This is a story that adults will get a lot from, and young adults too. Recently nominated for the 2014 Carnegie Medal, it deserves its places there. Joshua is a well-written protagonist, we follow him and his thoughts with interest - learning of his dead father, a soldier, his widowed and emotionally scarred mother, and the stepfather who has pushed his way into their lives. And we see Joshua growing up into an independently minded young man as he sees through to the other side of walled Amarias and how other people are forced to live. And what he tries to do to help. We see the underprivileged side of the wall through Joshua's eyes, what he has that they do not, the hate they feel for those who can move at will through checkpoints. And the danger this puts him in, and those who choose to protect him.
It's sometimes a little bleak and you do feel that Joshua is in real danger, putting himself in situations for a good reason but neglecting his own safety at the same time. But one of the morals of this book does seem to be that as individuals we have the power to make change and to see unfairness and try to do something about it. Joshua is the boy who sees this by himself.
A book destined for KS3 / KS4 reading lists in English. And one an adult reading group would find plenty of scope in as well.
There are a lot of excellent books up for the Carnegie this year, and i wouldn't be at all disappointed if Sutcliffe were awarded the prize.
on 15 July 2013
I couldn't put this book down as I followed the heart-stopping tale of the inspiring young hero, Joshua. A gripping read for teenagers and adults alike.
What can I see about this marvellous book that does not give too much of the plot away? Only that the narrator, Joshua, a thirteen year old Israeli boy, comes upon a tunnel under the separation wall between Amarias, the new settlement town in which he lives, and the Palestinian town on the other side. Though scared, his determination to explore gains the upper hand. Throughout the book, his courage is astonishing (as is his endurance of pain: the book is intensely physical, as well as intensely visual). On two separate occasions he crosses in the tunnel to the other side. Each time the encounters he has there are terrifying and might have been fatal, but he is saved on the first occasion by an Arab girl and on the second by her father. Back on his own side of the Wall, he feels an overwhelming sense of obligation and commitment to them. I must not divulge what that commitment makes him do, other than to say that it is deeply moving and poetic - there is a passage that moved me to tears. He has to do this in secret: the settlers in Amarias are fearfully, virulently and militantly anti-Arab, and they include his hated step-father (who reciprocates his enmity). Some of the confrontations between the two of them are frightening. Joshua will return from a third and even more hazardous crossing of the Wall.
He had spent the first nine years of his life in Israel proper, and had always hated living in the Occupied Zone into which his step-father had moved the family. Not long after Joshua returns from his third venture beyond the Wall, he and his mother return to Israel proper; but as he reflects on what he has experienced, it is not only on his two Arab friends that his thoughts focus, but on the wider issue. Amarias had always felt to him "like a huge lie, but this place [i.e. Israel proper] doesn't feel so different... but more convincing, easier to fall for." He will dedicate himself to strive for justice: "even if I spend my whole life failing, I will be failing at something I believe in ... How can I possibly forget ... the Wall and the people who are supposed to be invisible?"
on 16 November 2013
This book touched every emotional bone in my body as I travelled with Joshua on his amazing journey. Funny, sad and creative. I loved every page and didn't want it to end. The descriptions of Joshua's environment were amazing, but Joshua's empathy and value system of a teenage boy is what touched me most.
The book is even more special as it prompted me to reconnect to a Palestinian Friend having had no contact for 36 years. A must read. Could have scored higher than 'a fine balance' by Ronan Mystery - my top scoring book club book to date! The jury's still out on that one! Enjoy.
I was hugely impressed by this well balanced book, aimed at Young Adults, and with a hard hitting message. In my opinion, it managed to show both sides of the Israeli, Palestinian situation, how each fears the other and suffers as a result. (Although it never actually mentions these countries by name).
Joshua is a teenager, living in Amarias, with his mother and her new husband. His father died serving in the army, but Joshua never understood who he had been fighting against and his father made a point of never leaving the house in his uniform. Liev, Joshua's step-father, is a very different man, who has strong opinions about the threat posed by 'The Other Side'.
When Joshua's football goes over a wall into a building site, he climbs over to retrieve it and stumbles upon a tunnel that stretches beyond the wall into an area that represents The West Bank of Palestine. Of course he can't resist investigating and what he sees and learns from this and subsequent visits, will change him forever.
Not only does this book offer teenage readers a look at both sides, but the main character, Joshua, presents a good moral model, trying his very best to do what he feels is right, even when it is frightening, and even dangerous to do so. Unfortunately not all his actions have favourable outcomes and in this respect the story is very realistic. It reminded me very much of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, both were highly effective novels.
I should mention the excellent narrator, Nicholas Camm, who did an excellent job of reading this novel. Highly recommended to all ages, but particularly effective for teenagers.
on 2 April 2014
I read this novel because my Year Eight grandson had been recommended it by his school library - he's nearly 13, and my daughter says he is gripped by it. I was going to write a glowing review of it, having read it myself in under five days despite a busy life, but I find that other reviewers have said much of what I wanted to say, especially Daphne Jowit and Ralph Blumenau, Peace Seeker and Jane Henson.
Over the years I have learnt a great deal about the situation in Palestine, having heard many public talks from Quakers who have been Ecumenical Accompaniers at the checkpoints on The Wall; they have also picked olives for Palestinians who have limited access to their own olive groves, and offered many other forms of practical support. But this novel brought the whole place to life for me in a way that no public talk can do. Yes it is a gripping story which I could not put down, and I hope it appeals to teenagers, but it is a significant novel for adults too. The characters are certainly not stereotypes, as one reviewer thought; they are well-drawn believable people whom I readily identified with. Liev the angry step-father has a point-of-view which needs to be heard by anyone who would seek to solve the situation - he and others in the illegal Israeli settlements really are afraid that those on 'the other side' are out to get them, and equally Leila's father and her family have lived for over forty years under terrible constraints, and need to be listened to.
I could not guess how the story could possibly end as I went along, unlike with many novels. The ending was an enormous surprise and I am still reeling from it; but it is ultimately satisfying.
I found this novel absorbing and enthralling. I am a fan of Sutcliffe anyway, having loved New Boy and Are You Experienced?, but this is a very different, more grown up novel altogether, even though it's aimed, I guess, at a YA audience.
Joshua lives in Amarias near a big wall which he has never really thought about, even though the wall is part of his model play town that he keeps under his bed at home. One day he comes across a tunnel, and, being the sort of boy who likes adventure, he goes through the tunnel and meets a girl who saves him from a vicious beating by some lads who clearly recognise him as being from the wrong side of the wall. The book tells the story of how he tries to repay the girls kindness by tending her father's olive and lemon grove, which has been closed off by the wall, and the father is only allowed access to it once a month.
The book conveys the stifling heat and the stifling atmosphere of life on both sides of the wall incredibly well. I thought Sutciffe really got into the mind of a young lad. I know this book has been compared to Striped Pyjamas, and it does have some similarities, but I find it a more powerful and thought provoking read. Excellent.
on 11 July 2014
This book is, in many ways, a companion novel to 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas'. Both are written from the perspective of naive protagonists gradually becoming aware of the injustice of their surroundings. In one, the injustice is against Jews and in the other it is meted out by them.
Although I felt a little bogged down in the prose of The Wall, particularly the physical descriptions of crawling through the tunnel which could have been shorter without losing punch, I thought the story was well-written and a refreshing way of looking at injustice without being too worthy. Whilst I wanted more development between Joshua and those on the other side of the wall, these encounters were always brief, strained and curtailed, which felt very true to life.