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The Garden

by Carol Matas

In this novel, Carol Matas takes up the story of her character Ruth Mendenberg from November 1947 to April 1948, the uncertain period leading up to the establishment of a Jewish state. It’s the sequel to After the War, the story of Ruth’s journey as a concentration-camp survivor from ravaged postwar Europe to a new homeland in Israel.

Deeply concerned about social issues, Matas here takes on a topic of central importance to international affairs in the 1990s – the existence of the state of Israel and the conflict between Arabs and Israelis. The information and points of view presented in this novel come from the perspectives of the main characters, who are Jewish; there are no Arab spokespeople. Nonetheless, Matas dramatically presents the conflicting positions of the Jews themselves, on the issues of self-defence versus aggression, violence versus passive resistance, and the central question of entitlement. There are no absolutes in this novel, and even the heroism of the central characters comes at great cost. “I don’t want to be a heroine for killing people….I had no choice,” says Ruth.

In the present tense, the voice of 16-year-old Ruth describes the raids she goes on and attacks she suffers as a Palmach soldier, dedicated to defensive rather than aggressive action. Woven into the dramatic events of the story are her speculations about the future of Israel, brief memories of the horrors of the camps and the loss of her family, and worries about the escalating violence around her, her own role as a fighter, and her one surviving brother who has joined a terrorist group. The question for the young Jewish characters of the novel is how they can act justly and yet survive.

Ruth, who has planted and loves a garden on her kibbutz, desperately wants peace, but as tensions build, the missions on which her unit is sent become increasingly violent. Determined to survive and not to let her people be driven from this longed-for homeland, Ruth makes hard choices. The garden itself is an image of the fertility and harmony she hopes Israel might offer; trampled by soldiers’ boots, the garden is replanted and offers the possibility of renewed life. Although the characterizations are sketchy and Ruth’s inner monologues not always convincing, The Garden is a fast-paced yet thoughtful novel that gives insight into an important and topical subject.


Reviewer: Gwyneth Evans

Publisher: Scholastic


Price: $16.99

Page Count: 102 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-590-12381-5

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: 1997-9

Categories: Children and YA Fiction

Age Range: ages 12–16