I recently read almost all of Valerie Zenatti’s memoir, When I Was A Soldier, and really loved what I read, and then lost my copy. I really should find and finish it. So I was really excited when a copy of her novel, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, arrived in my mailbox!
While the cover art does not exactly call for the book to be read immediately, I read it as soon as I got it anyway because of the author, and I was really impressed! This slim novel is the story of Tal, a seventeen-year-old Israeli, who puts a message in a bottle and asks her brother, a soldier stationed in Gaza, to throw it in the Gaza Sea. She imagines a girl her own age picking up the message, imagines them sharing their lives, imagines someone else in the world who does not feel the hate that is all around them.
What she gets is an email from the mysterious “Gazaman,” a boy who physically does not live that far away, but, as we see, the Gaza strip is really worlds away from Tal’s Jerusalem. Soon enough, the two are exchanging emails, not always free of animosity, but Tal is always hopeful that maybe if an Israeli and a Palestinian can correspond with each other without wanting to kill each other, maybe the world can someday come to reflect what she feels–maybe there can be peace.
This is a hard book to adequately describe. It’s an important story; it’s a look at the conflict in Israel beyond what we see in the media. At the day-to-day reality of it, from both sides. It’s heartbreaking, but also heartwarming, because even if these two characters are fictional, well, it gives us a glimpse of hope. There are people in Israel/Palestine who just want the fighting to stop, who don’t want to live in fear anymore. Valerie Zenatti, for one. She’s a French Jew, but spent much of her adolescence with her family in Israel (including the time she served as a soldier in the Israeli army), and now lives in Paris.
There are a few weird word choices and phrasings in this book, but I’m going to attribute that to translation (this book was originally published in French). This is a great story, and I loved the two main characters. The background characters weren’t really all that important or well-developed, but, come on, this is a story told in journals and emails; that’s kind of to be expected. I really just wished the story would go on longer! It’s a very absorbing story–not just short enough to read in one sitting, but I don’t see how you could put it down! It comes out in April.