Banned in Israeli schools by the Ministry of Education, All the Rivers introduces us to a love story fraught with controversy. Liat, the narrator, is a translator from Tel Aviv who while temporarily living living in New York City on a fellowship, meets and is immediately entranced by Hilmi, a handsome and captivating Palestinian artist from Ramallah, living in Brooklyn. Although fully aware of the potential complications and repercussions, Liat engages in an intense and passionate six month relationship with Hilm until she returns to Israel. While the lovers’ political differences would pose an impenetrable obstacle to their romance in their respective homelands, the obstacle seems nonexistent in the diaspora of New York City. Rabinyan carefully portrays the trajectory of the relationship as it evolves from an innocent fling into a genuine and passionate love affair, albeit one that is overshadowed by the characters’ realities back home.
Although Liat and Hilmi attempt to put aside their political differences for the sake of their relationship, Liat can’t help but feel the Israeli-Palestinian tension as it permeates every aspect of her relationship with Hilmi. Liat’s guilt over the occupation in the West Bank and the power disparity between the sides of the conflict are constantly on her mind . Rabinyan captures this eloquently, “I wondered whether Hilmi, in the men’s room on the other side of the wall, was also reading the word in the little door locked—Occupied—and thinking about the occupation”.
Liat engages in an ongoing internal battle between her love for Hilmi and her Israeli roots. Reconciling the two competing factors seems possible outside of Israel, but daunting and impossible in Israel. The time Liat shares with Hilmi is at the same time both joyous and agonizing. Through Liat’s narration, the reader is able to empathize with the lovers and ask themselves what, or who, is worth sacrificing our values and cultural identity for.
Michelle Zaurov is Jewish Book Council’s program associate. She graduated from Binghamton University in New York, where she studied English and literature. She has worked as a journalist writing for the Home Reporter, a local Brooklyn publication. She enjoys reading realistic fiction and fantasy novels, especially with a strong female lead.