Fletcher. Martin. “Promised Land: A Novel of Israel”. Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2018.
“One Brother Builds Israel, the Other Protects it”
Martin Fletcher was the head of NBC TV’s Tel Aviv News Bureau and her certainly knows Israel. He brings us “Promised Land”, a story of Israel that will no doubt compared to Leon Uris’ “Exodus”. It is a “story of triumph and tragedy, new love and historic hate” that is told by unforgettable characters. The story of the creation of the state of Israel is in itself epic and therefore demands an expert storyteller and that describers Fletcher perfectly. The prose is gorgeous and the story is exciting. We could not ask for more. “Promised Land” is the story of two brothers and the woman they love set against the founding of Israel.
The story begins when fourteen-year-old Peter is sent to America in order to escape what was happening in Nazi Germany. His younger brother Arie and their entire family are sent to the death camps and only Arie survives.
Years later, the brothers reunite in the new Jewish state, where Arie has become a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel. Peter becomes a top Mossad agent heading some of Israel’s most vital espionage operations. “One brother builds Israel, the other protects it.”
They both fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, a lonely Jewish refugee from Cairo. During the following twenty years as their new homeland faces tremendous obstacles and odds that could destroy it, the brothers face intrigues, jealousies and political strife that could tear their new lives apart.
We are reminded that the pioneers, settlers, immigrants and founders of Israel worked very hard to build a powerful country and a democratic presence in a hostile environment and paid heavily to do so. Fletcher explains the history and conflicts of the early years of Israel’s statehood never letting us forget that those pioneers and builders were reeling from the horrors and pain of the Holocaust. Many of our characters here are struggling to cope with their losses and create new lives and homes for themselves. Everybody has his/her burden to bear.
Fletcher not only gives us the history of the country but also a look at how people lived in Israel at that time in her history. We are more than aware of the military struggles the young nation faces and how it was to live at a time when war was always imminent. The addition of Tamara and the romance heightens the already tense atmosphere that Israelis were forced to live with.
The major problem I had with the book is that Leon Uris set the mark very high with “Exodus” and most authors that tried to give us something similar did not measure up. While the story of Tamara helped us to understand the unease that existed then in the country, I had trouble understanding her purpose in the story and I felt she intruded on the larger picture.
Aside from that I wanted a bit more character development and I longed for a hero to fill the shoes of an Ari Ben Canaan and his brother Barak. I also question the timing of the release of this novel since Israel is going through a really rough period now and I think we need more of a sense of reality than fiction right now.
Quite basically, this is the story of the first twenty years of Israel and I was there during the last five years of that period and I found much of the novel to be true to life descriptively. Using the two brothers is a clever way to bring in the story as seen through the eyes of the founding generation. While this is fiction, it also gives us an inside look at the passion of the people building a nation and this is what matters above all else.