“All the Rivers: A Novel” by Dorit Rabinyan— An Untenable Love Affair

Rabinyan, Dorit. “All the Rivers: A Novel”, (translated by Jessica Cohen), Random House, 2017.

An Untenable Love Affair

Amos Lassen

When Liat meets Hilmi on an autumn afternoon in Greenwich Village, she realizes that she is unwillingly drawn to him. Hilmi is a talented young artist from Palestine who is handsome and charismatic. Liat is an aspiring translation student who plans to return home to Israel the following summer. Even though they knew that their love can be only temporary and that it can exist only away from their conflicted homeland, Liat nonetheless lets herself be enchanted by Hilmi. His wise eyes spoke directly to her and he was both sweet and devoted to her.

Together the young lovers explore New York City and as they do they shares their thoughts and their homesickness for their countries. However, the joy that Liat feels is filled with guilt that comes from hiding him from her family in Israel and her Jewish friends in New York. As her departure date nears and her feelings for Hilmi deepen, Liat must decide whether she is willing to risk alienating her family, her community, and her sense of self for Hilmi’s love.

The book has been banned from Israeli school classrooms by Israel’s Ministry of Education. It is quite basically the story of a forbidden relationship, a love story and a war story. It is also a New York story and a Middle East story that dives into the forces that bind us and divide us. Hilmi reminds Liat that the land is the same land and all of its rivers flow into the same sea in the end. What we really see here is how public events play upon the private lives of those who attempt to live and love in peace with each other. This is a very human story of rapprochement and separation that brings together reality and emotions.

Liat and Hilmi’s chance meeting sparks a love affair that takes readers on a five-month journey through New York City. But the young lovers have to deal with the knowledge that their secret love is forbidden by their families and will have to end when Liat returns to Israel in just five months. Back in Israel they are separated physically by just forty miles but those forty miles are quite a distance ideologically.

We know when we meet that this relationship is essentially on a timetable. We see both sides of the conflict well and we understand that the two characters passionately believed they were right in the way they felt. While I wanted to find the love story to be convincing, I felt something was missing but the book does help us to understand both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from two very personal and opposing views.

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