Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Wall (review)

3/5 books

The Wall (Goodreads | Amazon) is a book with an ambitious idea, write a fictionalized version of the Israeli/Palestine conflict.  In some ways this is a good idea, take the problem out the context of our world to look at with fresh eyes.  However, that's the type of idea that has to be executed with an excellence that this book lacks. It's too obvious that this is a thinly veiled Israeli/Palestine conflict.  Even worse, it's pretty obvious which side of the wall is which side.  Add on top of that overly simplistic characters that tend towards either black or white, rather than the more realistic shades of grey, and you have a novel that doesn't really work for me.

Joshua, the protagonist, moves to Amarias with his mother and stepfather after his father is killed in his required military service.  He doesn't quite fit in his new town and his step-father is a religious, stern man who doesn't even try to understand his stepson.  Joshua is drifting, playing soccer with his best-friend David (who he would admittedly not even like outside of his new town) and just going through the motions of life.

Until Joshua finds the tunnel.  The tunnel leads under the wall to a world that feels completely different from his home in Amarias, despite being less than a mile away.  Here he encounters immediate hate from a gang of boys, fleeing through streets until he's rescued by a girl named Leila who helps him find his way back to the tunnel again.  From there, they form an accidental friendship when Joshua goes through the tunnel again to deliver food to the hungry girl who helped him. Joshua develops a relationship with her family and her father almost becomes a surrogate father to the lost boy despite the wall that separates them.

A novel that teaches tolerance and about how the whole world can be "our people" not just those who think and look like us, is a nice idea.  However here's where the execution goes awry.  Rather than making the people on Joshua's side of the wall complex, we only see sad caricatures that are more monster than men, whereas both Leila and her father are excellent examples of people, rescuing Joshua more than once, and choosing peace in the face of perpetual violence.  Aside from a passing mention of his dead father the reluctant solider, Joshua's side of the wall needed more depth. There is no real discussion of the fear that has made his stepfather Liev a monster, he just is a monster without explanation. Also not explained is why Joshua's people imprison, kill and fear Leila's people.  That lack of worldbuilding is a disservice to this type of the story. The conflict needs to be developed and both sides should have fair shot at telling their stories.  For this story to work, it needs complex villains because otherwise the book seems to simplify what is truly a very complicated situation.

There were times that I enjoyed passages of this book and enjoyed what it was trying to do.  The problem is that it didn't do it very well.  Certain subject matters require more than your average storytelling ability, they need more knowledge, more background, more complexity, just more than this book actually gives.

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