Monday, April 11, 2011


Astronomy in Netanya
You know those books that seem to be missing a point? Any kind of point at all? That's the kind of book that Netanya [נתניה - 2010] is (last mentioned here). This is an at-times fascinating, occasionally amusing, always casually written, short "memoir" that completely lacks a point. But I mean: completely.

Dror Burstein seems like the kind of guy I'd want to have a conversation with. And not the internet kind either. He's a writer who managed to write a memoir-esque book with almost no personal intervention. Whether or not this worked particularly effectively is a whole other matter. We'll get to that in a moment. His blog, meanwhile, seems a lot like Netanya. Or the other way around. Netanya vaguely resembles three or four extremely long blog posts. Put together, they make for a short, rather strange little book.

Netanya isn't really a memoir. Nor is it an autobiography. I wouldn't even say that it's 100% nonfiction either. It's one long monologue, thoughts beamed directly to the reader, sometimes evening coming off as fictionalized. Burstein barely even features in this book. He's around, sure, but he's like this quiet side character watching and quoting a lot. He has little to add.

Facts and photos
There are two main themes in Netanya: Burstein's family history (mostly his grandfather) and Earth's history. Both stories are interesting. Neither really work within the context of the book. The astronomy/science story - which was far more interesting to me - seemed to get lost in the number of quotes and references to specific scientists. At times I felt like Burstein was simply copying and pasting chunks of these books that so influenced him. I'm not saying it isn't effective and interesting, but in such a short book, is it particularly impressive? No.

The family story, meanwhile, is less coherent in my mind, but more influential in that it has the emotional impact on the reader. But because it lacked structure and coherence, the story scattered. And then there's the entirely legit question: what's the point? What is Burstein trying to tell his readers? He isn't a hugely popular author - Netanya was published fairly calmly and I came across it somewhat by mistake - and this doesn't have a "great" and "huge" message that seemingly "justifies" the looseness. It's got wonderful writing. It's got two interesting, random stories. It's got some great moments. But as a book? Not the greatest.

I will certain read Burstein's novels. His writing, the way he successfully kept me reading despite Netanya's flaws is enough to convince me that he's a writer worth noting.

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