Ten Thousand Lovers and Glengarry Tourism
{ Two Book reviews by Rana Bose, an occasional reviewer. }
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Ten Thousand Lovers, by Edeet Ravel. Headline Book Publishing, Euston Road, London, England, 2003

Using wry and dry but hilarious Arab-isms and Hebrew cuss words, Edeet Ravel has woven or rather carved out an extremely contemporary novel out of the hard, stolid and tragic reality that is Israel and Palestine. This novel could very well have been written in the context of the current dangerous situation in the Middle East, but in reality is set in the seventies, when the nature of the conflict was confined somewhat to warring armies, rather than feuding neighbourhoods and settlements. In that sense, it is prognostic, without being proselytizing. It is set in the removed and benign environment of two lovers, a Jewish Canadian emigrant-student and her Israeli army lover, who is an interrogator and has worked closely with the Shin Bet. It captures the intensity of the battles raging everywhere in the Middle East, without walking into any interrogation centre or an ambush or a scene of a massacre or a bulldozing. This despairing and yet extraordinarily moving novel stays within the four walls and the roadways travelled by the two lovers. And yet you feel you have been bulldozed by the quiet, emotional and enormously witty sensuality of Ms. Ravel.

The author provokes one to easily comprehend that things are just not the way they are made out to be. Loss of faith in one’s long held beliefs could be severely damaging to the psyche of the nation and yet it has to happen. In reality, things have not changed with the second intifada and in fact have gotten worse. What good is a novel, if it does not make you stop, close down the book, smile to yourself or shed a tear? ...This novel does that to you. And who suffers the predicament the most? Ordinary citizens, Jews and Arabs, lovers and roommates, walkers on the beach, interrogators, hustlers and hitchhikers. Ms. Ravel takes on mainstream emotions without a shriek or a painful word uttered. That is what good writing is all about!

This is a most poignant, tender and romantic novel, not dramatic, not pedantic and yet replete with a dignified call to look below the veneer of stated goals, scriptural pronouncements and the announcements of both governments and movements and in turn understand the deep frustrations of a homeless nation. Ravel does not bleed, as a stereotyped liberal must, so often, it seems. She bares the deepest wounds in a quiet and unobtrusive manner. The personal emotions, so endearingly built-up during the entire novel, end tragically in an incident that can only be symbolic of the futility of the process that is happening right now in this part of the world. Hostility, sorrow, racism, segregation, hate, violence, torture and pain duel with reason, righteousness, deeply felt love and warm sensuality.
There are no breaks in the novel, no distractions, even though she has crafted two generations (mother and daughter) to walk us through the novel concurrently and in parallel, while being distinctly separate. The separation is almost startling and yet constructed with truth. At the same time (if one has to search for any weakness) there is a certain un-reality in the way the newer generation seems “un-affected.” Intelligent “love in an impossible world” is an accurate sub-title for this first-rate novel.

A Tourist’s guide to Glengarry, By Ian McGillis. Porcupine’s Quill, Erin, Ontario, 185 pages, 2002.

McGillis’ novel is exceptionally subaltern, in perspective. It is written from below, and observed truly and authentically from the vantage point of a nine-year, non-descriptive kid on the block. Neil McDonald, the singularly keen child, who is the “ I” in this very endearing novel, observes the unfolding of a multicultural nation, almost like a Huck Finn ride through “middle” Canada using pop history, music, backyard gossip, sly ethnic humour to paddle through a slow moving, lazy day. And it is a moving day for Neil’s family and it has not even been discussed with him! Moves are symbolic and the un-democracy of not partaking or being knowledgeable about the move is part of the symbolism as well. Hilarious exchanges between nine year olds form the backbone of this short-lived growing-up novel. It could easily have been stretched out to a larger growth span in years, but McGillis chose to defend the turf, just for that one “day in the life”. Because it’s all about the “ legs going wobbly” and feeling “weirder” when the girl you have been thinking about and who has been assiduously ignoring you, actually calls you, on that same day, and your sister takes the phone and looks at you with one eyebrow raised...! This novel rings exceptionally true in its spirited portrayal of growing up, while all the time capturing the spirit of an entire generation that hovers in and out of these little lives.
The absolutely precise, accurate reflections on the debates and fights that so many of us must have had on soul versus pop, between Sly and Lightfoot, between the Doors and the Beatles, hockey and baseball, arrogant little girls and silly boys, Mum and Dad and stuff! All this while hanging out in backyards, criss-crossing through neighbours’ lawns and walking down sidewalks in deeply contemplative moods. McGillis does not miss a beat of these little hearts.

One day could never be enough, for a tourist trip through Glengarry, because as the novel ends Neil makes a promise to himself to get a bike and make his way back to Glengarry, to find out what everybody is up to (and stuff!), now that he has moved some forty blocks away to another country!

McGillis writes with an unadulterated, innocent spirit, avoiding the path of “mature wisdom” that could easily have crept in. It flows delectably and without any warning sometimes of the turn of events ahead, just as a child would take sharp corners with his bike through back alleys and hedges. A winning novel about Canada, just the way it has been evolving.

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