Certain political issues are so combustible, so emotionally fraught, that debate – even discussion – about them feels perilous. High stakes narrow fields of vision, as if individuals have been outfitted with blinders to anyone’s point of view but their own. Israel is such a topic. Nora Gold has conducted research, written papers, and lectured on anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. Now, she turns her attention to fiction as a means of addressing these subjects.
Gold’s debut novel centres on Judith Gallanter, a young Jewish activist. After a decade spent in Israel working for peace, Judith returns to Toronto to attend graduate school in social work. When the keynote speaker for the university’s Anti-oppression Day advocates terrorist attacks not only against Israeli military targets but also against Israeli citizens and Jews around the world, Judith protests. As a result, she finds herself trapped inside a kind of Orwellian nightmare. She is vilified, subjected to both verbal and physical violence. Her life unravels.
The strongest parts of this novel focus on Israel, Judith’s “first love” and “the love of her life.” Gold offers sensuous descriptions of the Jewish homeland where Judith feels most alive. “She loved this country’s red earth, its mountain-deserts…. She loved the star-studded night sky, with its sliver of moon lying … like a cradle.”
Unfortunately, overwriting and a lack of subtlety hamper the story. The novel is rife with repetition; quotidian details slow the momentum; gratuitous explication punctures the power of too many scenes; the dialogue is clotted with clichés and platitudes. Here is Judith’s boyfriend in the midst of an argument with her: “Don’t throw away all that talent fighting windmills…. [B]anging your head against a brick wall isn’t going to help you or anybody else.”
Gold tackles vital issues, such as anti-Zionism (the “new anti-Semitism”) and its prevalence in academia, but the novel ends up as a polemic, a jeremiad. Ultimately, making a case of this kind works better in non-fiction; it strangles the moral complexity necessary to the best novels.