(4.5 stars) With Friendly Fire, A. B. Yehoshua, one of Israel's most honored contemporary novelists, creates a magnificent novel filled with real, flawed characters who come alive from the first page. The alternating narratives of Daniela Ya'ari, who is visiting her brother-in-law in Tanzania, and her husand Amotz Ya'ari, who remains behind in Tel Aviv, reveal their relationships to each other, their family, their culture, and ultimately their country. Daniela has been protected by Ya'ari (as he is usually identified) for her entire marriage, but she has traveled to Tanzania alone this time. Her older sister Shuli died two years before, while Shuli and her husband Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) were living in Tanzania, and Daniela, who has never really grieved, wants to come to terms with her death.
Yirmi has suffered a double loss. He has lost not only Shuli but also their son Eyal, a soldier who was killed in the West Bank by "friendly fire." Yirmiyahu refuses to return to Israel, wanting a rest from "the whole messy stew, Jewish and Israeli...a time out from my people, Jews in general and Israelis in particular." Working on a remote anthropological dig, he feels most at home with the African researchers.
Daniela's husband Ya'ari, who runs a Tel Aviv engineering company, needs to be in control, and his inability to control the vagaries of nature (and other people) frustrate him. In an unforgettably described passage at the outset of the novel, Ya'ari has been summoned to correct the unbearable moaning noises which emanate from an elevator whenever the wind blows, an engineering problem that Yehoshua actually manages to make exciting. Ya'ari is also facing family issues involving his elderly father, his son Moran (who has repeatedly refused his call to army reserve duty), Moran's gorgeous but irresponsible wife, and their two unruly children.
The action, which takes place during one week, opens on the second day of Hanukkah, the eight-day "festival of lights," with each chapter representing one of the eight candles. Though Ya'ari and Daniela observe the holidays, Yirmiyahu, in Tanzania, prefers the "friendly [camp]fires" of the dig in Africa to the "friendly fires" of the Hanukkah candles. Ya'ari's children are also less observant. The use of fire as a symbol sometimes combines with religious symbolism. Daniela discusses the Book of Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu), a prophet who predicted God's judgment on Jerusalem, with Yirmi, who read it, ironically, after Eyal's death in Jerusalem by "friendly fire." When he then read the Song of Songs, a book about the fires of love, the contrast overwhelmed him, and he gave up organized religion forever for the animism of Africa.
Friendly Fire goes beyond Israeli and Jewish issues to touch on universal issues affecting all of humanity. Intensely realized, thoughtful, and stunning in its unique imagery and symbolism, this unusual novel deals with seemingly everyday issues, offering new insights into the human condition--life, love, and death--while fire serves throughout as a universal symbol of man's humanity and his evolutionary differences from the rest of the animal world. Readers familiar with Judaism and Israeli history may appreciate some aspects of this book more than other readers, as may those who practice a strong religious faith, but Yehoshua is so skillful at developing rounded characters that readers will find them memorable, if not touching, as they deal with their everyday lives. n Mary Whipple
I enjoyed this book on a number of different levels. Firstly, it is good writing, switching between the two protagonists works well in telling the story. It also brings to life the other main characters. It is an unusual reflection on Israelis and Israeli life-as another viewer accurately noted, middle class Israel that we don't hear much about. It is also about ageing, loss, grief and reflection. I liked the mix of setting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Africa and the diverse range of people who populate Mr Yehoshua's story. I liked that the novelist is uncompromising in his portraits, but is sympathetic of the flaws as much as celebratory about courage and tenacity. I never expected to be captivated by the engineering of lifts-but it is two sets of lifts that have central roles in this novel. It also covers archaeology, Old Testament and Jewish secularisation and the event that gives the book its title. For all of the staring down the image in the mirror, there are shadows and blind spots exposed in the interactions between the characters in this book and the world they live within, personally and globally. It is a satisfying read and I will look for more works by this author.
This novel was interesting, humorous and sensitive. Israeli/Jewish identity is explored while the characters are linked together by the problems of two wailing lift shafts. Or is it the lifts themselves? Slightly marred by a potty scene at the end where Yehoshua is misled by his masculine view of female sexuality but apart from that, excellent.
A thoroughly engaging read that really cracks the nuances of familial relationships - Yehoshua understands the irrationality of human emotions better than any author I've read in a long time. A fascinating insight into the Israeli psyche, and how the security situation continues to affect ordinary middle class Israeli families (a demographic usually ignored in Western writing about the Middle East). Got a bit emotionally worn down by the blunt, confrontational attitudes of many of the characters, but perhaps I need to stop expecting characters to be obsessed with colonial politesse...