Fields of Exile

  • Review
By – January 21, 2014

Meet Judith Gal­lanter. She’s dat­ing a man who doesn’t fit her idea of the per­fect hus­band, she’s reluc­tant­ly study­ing for a Master’s degree in social work in Cana­da — and she des­per­ate­ly miss­es her life in Israel, where she had been liv­ing for ten years since mak­ing aliyah.

Judith is moti­vat­ed by the cer­tain­ties she believes in, espe­cial­ly the con­vic­tion that she belongs in Israel. Her faith in Israel’s virtues becomes her com­pass as she nav­i­gates her way on a cam­pus rife with anti-Israel sen­ti­ment, which dri­ves the plot and calls atten­tion to the cur­rent state of aca­d­e­m­ic dis­course — espe­cial­ly on the sub­ject of Israeli apartheid.” But her inner con­flicts are hard­er for her to face.

If Judith’s cer­tain­ties seem admirable at first, they become more ques­tion­able in light of how she’s actu­al­ly been liv­ing. She roman­ti­cizes her decade in Israel, yet she nev­er had a real career there, and her most seri­ous rela­tion­ship was a sex­u­al­ly intense affair with a mar­ried man. Mean­while, in Cana­da she won’t com­mit to a smart, thought­ful, devot­ed, under­stand­ing, suc­cess­ful lawyer whose only flaw appears to be his pref­er­ence to stay in Ontario. For Judith, that’s a car­di­nal offense against her loy­al­ty to Israel.

At school she sees fac­ul­ty mem­bers and fel­low stu­dents in sim­i­lar­ly black-and-white terms: one day they’re coura­geous, per­cep­tive, car­ing friends or allies; the next day they do some­thing that makes them unprin­ci­pled or super­fi­cial or oppor­tunis­tic in Judith’s eyes. You can’t help but won­der if Judith’s extreme reac­tions to peo­ple might not be as much an obsta­cle for her as the polit­i­cal extrem­ism of her antag­o­nists. Even her con­ces­sions to cir­cum­stance at the end feel pro­vi­sion­al, reluc­tant, and unful­fill­ing. If she doesn’t learn to be more for­giv­ing and less cat­e­gor­i­cal, she may nev­er find happiness.

Fields of Exiles pow­er comes from Nora Gold’s deep feel­ing for the places she writes about, her sym­pa­thy with the human con­di­tion, and her reck­on­ing with the accom­mo­da­tions that life demands. Any­one who needs to bal­ance Israel with the Dias­po­ra, or indeed any ide­al with the life they actu­al­ly live, will par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy this sat­is­fy­ing, reward­ing novel.

Read Nora Gold’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts

Leah Gold­berg, Me, and the Search for a Title for my New Book

Feed­ing Oth­er Writ­ers, and Myself

Discussion Questions