Though When Heroes Fly is not a perfect book (way too long, random ending takes the book in a completely different direction, though I ultimately didn't mind too much), it's a winner. The book does what many modern Israeli novels try to do - show the development of the relatively young country alongside that of its characters. The children are conveniently born at such an age that they are meaningful ages for each of Israel's (many) wars - children for the victorious Six Days War, teens during the pain of the Yom Kippur War, and serving as soldiers in the 1982 Lebanon War. This puts them in the right place at the right time for many of Israel's major events, finally having them disenchanted or struggling adults in the more modern era.
Though I can easily find fault with the book (others have liked it a lot less than I), it's the kind of book that should be translated into English. Some good books can survive in their own languages just fine, but ones that do a good job of painting a portrait of their culture and nation deserve (to an extent...) the opportunity to spread that word. It's true that Israel is surprisingly well represented in the Anglo reading world, but it's disappointing that I have to wonder how long it will take Gutfreund's wonderful book to reach the Anglo-centric world. Our Holocaust is still in print (also - surprisingly) and seems to have been well received in the U.S. This makes me hope that the 667-paged heft of When Heroes Fly will reach readers soon.
In the meantime, I've started The Shoreline Mansions - and also stopped (for those wondering, this is the short story collection I mentioned a few days ago). Why would I set aside one of the best short story collections I've read in a long time? For the simple reason that I don't want it to end. I have stopped just about halfway, at the start of a story that has already caught my attention (and keeps nagging me back to the book). I was convinced that I needed to read more Gutfreund after loving When Heroes Fly - now five stories into this collection, I want to ensure that I have further Gutfreund before I continue. Our Holocaust seems like a good next destination.
And, thankfully, one I can discuss with you all.
A treat from me to you: a translation of the opening of "Clocks", one of the short stories from The Shoreline Mansions. Gutfreund writes most of these stories from the side, having first person narrations telling the reader about the main characters. I admire his writing style and am impressed by how engaging it is. And the fact that the following story is not about the grandfather's death. So, for your reading pleasure, a small taste of this author's writing.
Grandpa died. A man turns into memories.
In one moment, everything that would have been possible in a normal coming week will no longer be. From now until forever, the threads of our memories will escort us, one end at the moment of Grandpa's death and the other going with us, wherever we go. Grandpa will belong to us. With the years (they will come), the threads of our memories will get tangled, will tear, will rip. The memories we'll compare with each other in twenty years won't even resemble Grandpa.
Our mother doesn't cry. She sits on her chair in solemn clothes, gazing at the row of mourners.
The well-worn phrases -
"We liked him."
"Who would have believed?"
"He will be missed."