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The People of Forever Are Not Afraid: A…

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid: A Novel (2012)

by Shani Boianjiu

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This was a grim read but one I'd still recommend. I appreciated rather than enjoyed the story, the relationships between the three girls, the utter boredom and despair of the town they lived in by the Lebanese border (to Jewify the Galilee in the words of one of the girls), the almost casual violence of their time in the army, the checkpoints, the border patrols, the hostility towards Mizrahi Jews in Israel, and the rampant sexism expressed in so much of their culture. It kind of falls apart toward the end, though there were some chapters that moved me to tears.

I'll be watching for more from Boianjui but it's a tough tough book. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Some books require work to read. They test your mind. Retrain it. Force you to think a little differently. Like learning a new language. While others are easier...you barely have to work at it, you can skim whole paragraphs and still know what's happening and often finish in a day, turning pages rapidly as if you are watching a tv show or movie and not reading or thinking at all, just gazing through a glass. This book is the former, not the later.

It is not a page-turner. It will not keep you up late at night reading. But you won't forget it five minutes later. It's not plot-driven, more character driven, and the characters are complicated and not always easy to like or identify with. They feel real. The story feels real as well. As if it is non-fiction not fiction. You feel as if you are there in the desert, looking at the olive trees. Not gazing safely through a glass at them.

It requires slow digestion and pulls you deep inside another person's perspective - with a stream of consciousness style that takes a while to get into the rhythm of, like learning a new language or a new composition of music. But it does require the right mood and frame of mind. It's also the type of book that works very well in Book clubs and English Lit courses - much to chew on.

Shani Boianjiu is quite ambitious. She plays with time and point of view. Her novel is told in various points of view and perspectives. The first portion in first person, the second in third person, and then back again. It's a tale told by multiple voices not just one, and as a result we see multiple perspectives on the central topic - which is what it is like to live on the West Bank of Israel in the early 21st Century during multiple mini-battles and a hard won truces. And her styles vary depending on the point of view she is in and when she is in it. She writes in the voice of the character without ever once falling into the trap of dialect or phonetics. You hear her characters speaking in your head.

The title of the book is from a bumper sticker one of the character's fathers see on the car in front of him - it is a metaphor for these characters lives - what it is like to live in Israel. It's like when you drive down the road and you see a weird bumper sticker in front of you and think, dang, that's my life, exactly. Here it is told in much the same way. The book is in a hyper-realistic post-modern style - depicting the harsh reality of Israel without the rose-colored glasses. Shani tells it like it is. No small detail is spared.

We are pulled into the lives of three women, from the age of 16, when they are still in school, to the age of 23, a year or two after they've finished their tour of duty in the Israeli Armed Forces. Lea, Yael, and Avishag. They come from different ethnicities, Yemen, Iraq, Eucador...but all are Jewish and all Israeli. They are friends in school, and their friendships change during the period of service, they fall in and out of them. Through them we see first hand what it is like to be female in this environment. How far we've come and how far we have yet to go. While they've been granted the right to serve in the armed forces, they are regulated boring, mindless jobs, while their male counterparts fight and die, often resenting them. In one chapter, after they've finished serving, male soliders take them captive and punish them for not being part of the War. It's a weird chapter that is told in a stream of consciousness almost surreal style that requires re-reading to determine what occurred and is in the first person narrative. Through it, the writer makes clear how traumatized and confused the narrator is, hence the surreal telling.

The book did not move me emotionally. There's an emotional distance or coldness in the telling. The writer has a "matter-of-fact" style to her writing that makes it difficult to related to her characters. You feel as if you are at arms length and perhaps that is for the best. Towards the end, it did begin to move and haunt me. For I found myself thinking, but for the grace of God, go I.
These women's lives are far from easy. But they suffer through with a bored pathos bordering on apathy.
It's almost as if they are asking towards the end is there any reason for this, any meaning here?
And perhaps what they fear most is the lack of it, the meaninglessness, the emptiness...that their lives are an emotional and spiritual desert. If this is true, what in fact are they fighting for?
And are they forever, and do they really want to be?

Not a book I'll forget any time soon. In some respects more horrifying due to its basis in reality than any horror novel I've read. The characters seem to have last their souls by the end of the novel, and are fighting with a listless sluggishness to get it back again. What an endless war does to us, what endless fighting for a cause we no longer understand, whose meaning seems to have ebbed ageas ago...and how constantly demonizing the enemy begins to chip away at us - is no better expressed than through these pages. It's a "Heart of Darkness" for the modern age.

Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart or hard of mind.

( )
  cmlloyd67 | Jun 7, 2015 |
Shani Boianjiu is a young Israeli author who wrote a book, in English, about her military service: “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid”. The book is the story about three friends – Yael, Avishag and Lea – who grew up together in a small village in northern Israel. When they get drafted to the army, their lives change, but in different ways. Yael trains infantry soldiers to shoot; Avishag stands guard in border crossings; Lea checks Palestinians entering Israel to work. As young women they talk about boys and worry about their future.

I bought this book because of the excellent reviews it received. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete it. I tried really hard, but the ramblings of Boianjiu were so boring I just couldn’t take it. I felt like I was reading the diary of a teenager, and a tedious one at that.

Serves me right. I should have followed my instincts. When I read reviews that say things like “a distinct new voice in literature” I become suspicious. Boianjiu’s awful book proves my instincts are correct. ( )
  ashergabbay | Aug 5, 2014 |
Three girls, Yael, Avishag and Lea, who grow up together in the same village may have very different home lives and experiences but one experience they all have to share is required service in the Israeli army. In Shani Boianjiu’s debut novel The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, different chapters focus on a different girl, sometimes their lives in the village, in their time of serving and post service, are combined. At other times, we find each girl as she is on her own, trying to make her way through her service – sometimes through sex, sometimes American TV shows, sometimes destructive behavior. They each come out the other end not only a different woman, but truly altered.

I found Boianjiu’s writing raw and gripping. While reading on life experiences that were so foreign from my own I wasn’t always sure of what to make of what I was reading. Sometimes the story was so far-fetched and over the top I was a little put off, but I think that I was probably supposed to be. Boianjiu’s voice was beyond a voice I knew, but that’s the point of reading right, to go someplace different, and not always comfortable.

** I received this book for review from the publisher **

This review can also be found on my blog www.BaileysandBooks.com ( )
  BaileysAndBooks | Jan 24, 2014 |
I do not believe that I have ever rated a book a 2/5 in the time I have reviewed and recorded books on the Library Thing website. The title intrigued me as did the description inside the book cover. But what a disappointment. The "story" follows three girls (sometimes more) who grew up in a small settlement along the Lebanese border. Their boredom, random acts of cruelty, and aggression are told with no explanation, no insight. Then, one by one they are drafted into the army. Each one reports to "the sorting base",where, reminiscent of The Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, they are distributed to various units where they experience boredom, and random acts of sexual exploitation, degradation,and trauma. But they are not so innocent. The "girls" also perpetrate sexual acts, degradation, and torture on others. No remorse, no morality. No empathy. Life is just like that. No one cares. At one point, the narrative becomes confusing. The reader has no idea which character is being portrayed. Things happen with no reflection. None of the characters have any redeeming value. It is impossible to sympathize with anyone of them as the reader Is bombarded with one horrible scene after another, very much like the video games the characters play. Is this really what life is like in the IDF and in Israel? If it is, the people of forever are doomed. ( )
  mstruck | Jul 25, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307955958, Hardcover)

A “searing debut” about three young women coming of age, experiencing “the absurdities of life and love on the precipice of violence” (Vogue)
   Yael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.
   In a relentlessly energetic and arresting voice marked by humor and fierce intelligence, Shani Boianjiu, winner of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35,” creates an unforgettably intense world, capturing that unique time in a young woman's life when a single moment can change everything.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:41 -0400)

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Three young women in Israel are conscripted into the army and struggle to stay friends as they see their lives change in unpredictable ways.

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