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Sadness Is a White Bird
Cover of Sadness Is a White Bird
Sadness Is a White Bird
A Novel
"Nuanced, sharp, and beautifully written, Sadness Is a White Bird manages, with seeming effortlessness, to find something fresh and surprising and poignant in the classic coming-of-age, love-triangle narrative, something starker, more heartbreaking: something new." —Michael Chabon

"Unflinching in its honesty, unyielding in its moral complexity." —Pulitzer Prize–winning author Geraldine Brooks

In this lyrical and searing debut novel written by a rising literary star and MacDowell Fellow, a young man is preparing to serve in the Israeli army while also trying to reconcile his close relationship to two Palestinian siblings with his deeply ingrained loyalties to family and country.
The story begins in an Israeli military jail, where—four days after his nineteenth birthday—Jonathan stares up at the fluorescent lights of his cell, and recalls the series of events that led him there.

Two years earlier: Moving back to Israel after several years in Pennsylvania, Jonathan is ready to fight to preserve and defend the Jewish state, which his grandfather—a Salonican Jew whose community was wiped out by the Nazis—helped establish. But he is also conflicted about the possibility of having to monitor the occupied Palestinian territories, a concern that grows deeper and more urgent when he meets Nimreen and Laith—the twin daughter and son of his mother's friend.

From that winter morning on, the three become inseparable: wandering the streets on weekends, piling onto buses toward new discoveries, laughing uncontrollably. They share joints on the beach, trading snippets of poems, intimate secrets, family histories, resentments, and dreams. But with his draft date rapidly approaching, Jonathan wrestles with the question of what it means to be proud of your heritage and loyal to your people, while also feeling love for those outside of your own tribal family. And then that fateful day arrives, the one that lands Jonathan in prison and changes his relationship with the twins forever.

Powerful, important, and timely, Sadness Is a White Bird explores one man's attempts to find a place for himself, discovering in the process a beautiful, against-the-odds love that flickers like a candle in the darkness of a never-ending conflict.
"Nuanced, sharp, and beautifully written, Sadness Is a White Bird manages, with seeming effortlessness, to find something fresh and surprising and poignant in the classic coming-of-age, love-triangle narrative, something starker, more heartbreaking: something new." —Michael Chabon

"Unflinching in its honesty, unyielding in its moral complexity." —Pulitzer Prize–winning author Geraldine Brooks

In this lyrical and searing debut novel written by a rising literary star and MacDowell Fellow, a young man is preparing to serve in the Israeli army while also trying to reconcile his close relationship to two Palestinian siblings with his deeply ingrained loyalties to family and country.
The story begins in an Israeli military jail, where—four days after his nineteenth birthday—Jonathan stares up at the fluorescent lights of his cell, and recalls the series of events that led him there.

Two years earlier: Moving back to Israel after several years in Pennsylvania, Jonathan is ready to fight to preserve and defend the Jewish state, which his grandfather—a Salonican Jew whose community was wiped out by the Nazis—helped establish. But he is also conflicted about the possibility of having to monitor the occupied Palestinian territories, a concern that grows deeper and more urgent when he meets Nimreen and Laith—the twin daughter and son of his mother's friend.

From that winter morning on, the three become inseparable: wandering the streets on weekends, piling onto buses toward new discoveries, laughing uncontrollably. They share joints on the beach, trading snippets of poems, intimate secrets, family histories, resentments, and dreams. But with his draft date rapidly approaching, Jonathan wrestles with the question of what it means to be proud of your heritage and loyal to your people, while also feeling love for those outside of your own tribal family. And then that fateful day arrives, the one that lands Jonathan in prison and changes his relationship with the twins forever.

Powerful, important, and timely, Sadness Is a White Bird explores one man's attempts to find a place for himself, discovering in the process a beautiful, against-the-odds love that flickers like a candle in the darkness of a never-ending conflict.
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About the Author-
  • Moriel Rothman-Zecher is an Israeli-American novelist and poet. He is a 2018 National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree and received a 2017 MacDowell Colony Fellowship for Literature. His writing has been published in The New York Times, The Paris Review's "The Daily," Haaretz, and elsewhere. He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with his wife, Kayla, and daughter, Nahar. Read more at TheLefternWall.com and follow him on Twitter @Moriel_RZ.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2017

    Israeli American teenager Jonathan and his family move back to Israel, where his grandfather was among the founding generation; hearing his grandfather's stories, Jonathan dreams of joining the army. However, through his mother, who is involved in the peace movement, Jonathan learns another side of Israel's history, meeting and befriending Palestinian twins Laith and Nimreen, with whom he develops a close bond. Their carefree Friday afternoon explorations around Haifa--and sometimes well beyond--eventually lead to a relationship with Nimreen. While Jonathan dreams of a future with her, their relationship begins to fracture when he introduces Laith and Nimreen to some of his Israeli friends, and when Nimreen takes him to meet her grandmother on the West Bank. These strains deepen as graduation and his draft date near and reach a breaking point when his unit is assigned to watch over a Palestinian rally at which a demonstrator is killed. VERDICT While offering an unusually political coming-of-age novel, Rothman-Zecher frames the conflict in human terms. Passionate, topical, and thoughtful, this heartbreaking tale is vital reading for anyone who cares about the future of this part of the world. [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/17.]--Lawrence Rungren, Andover, MA

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2017
    A very young Israeli soldier whose best friends are Palestinian twins is driven to the breaking point by conflicting loyalties.Rothman-Zecher's debut begins in the "fluorescent glow of a jail cell" just days after its narrator's 19th birthday. In an epistolary narrative addressed to his friend Laith, Jonathan pours out his heart and sorts through his past. Two years earlier, before his senior year of high school, Jonathan's family returned to Israel after a long stint in Pennsylvania. The family's history--his grandfather left the Greek city of Salonica before the Nazis deported all its Jews to concentration camps; other family members did not--has given Jonathan a profound sense of the importance of the Jewish state. Thus he was eagerly awaiting the beginning of his military service when he met Laith and his sister, Nimreen, tall, brilliant, cool Palestinian twins, students at Haifa University, both with eyes "the color of a sidewalk after a misty summer rain." Charmed and amused by the boy and his really pretty decent command of Arabic, they take him under their wings, and all more or less fall in love with each other. Over a long series of adventures, bus trips, nights on the beach, marijuana-fueled conversations, and poetry readings, Jonathan begins to see the occupation through the eyes of his friends and grasps that their family history is no less tragic than his own. Then his draft date arrives, and before long his unit is sent as a police presence to a demonstration in the Territories. "Today, you're going to put down a riot," their commander says. What happens that day is the reason Jonathan is in jail, the reason for this cri de coeur to his beloved friend Laith.A passionate, poetic coming-of-age story set in a mine field, brilliantly capturing the intensity of feeling on both sides of the conflict.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 18, 2017
    Rothman-Zecher’s outstanding debut takes its title from a Mahmoud Darwish poem: “Sadness is a white bird that does not come near a battlefield.” On the cusp of adulthood, Jonathan returns with his family from America to Israel, which means that soon he must serve in the Israeli army. Having been told the tragic stories of his Jewish ancestors, this service to his people is something he dreamed of as a boy. But after meeting the daughter and son of his mother’s Palestinian friend, twins named Nimreen and Laith, whom Jonathan dictates his story to, the lens through which he views the world changes. In poetic, epistolary prose, Rothman-Zecher describes Jonathan’s growing love for Nimreen (“the tangled curtain of her blackbird hair”) and for Laith, “voice soft like your sister’s, loamy like the ground,” whose sweet, lazy disposition provokes deep affection and loyalty. Against Nimreen’s wishes, Jonathan joins the paratroopers, with tragic consequences that cause Jonathan to spiral into what may or may not be insanity. Rothman-Zecher has an unusual way with words, giving lovely, fresh descriptions of desire, violence, and injustice.

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Sadness Is a White Bird
A Novel
Moriel Rothman-Zecher
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