Shani Boianjiu’s eye-opening and brutally honest debut novel chronicles the abrupt coming-of-age of three young Israeli girls—Yael, Lea and Avishag—who grow up in a small village, attend high school together and are conscripted soon afterward into the Israeli army. In school, their days are spent passing notes in class, waiting impatiently for recess, vying to see who can find the spot with the best cell phone reception and determining the location of the next weekend party.

After graduation they are sent to infantry boot camp, and are dispersed to different sites, portraying, in alternating voices, the harsh world in which they suddenly find themselves. Yael is stationed at a training base, where soon she is teaching shooting to new recruits. Lea is assigned to the military police at a checkpoint near Hebron, where Palestinian construction workers line up to be admitted each morning. She feels a kinship with one sad-faced man—only to be shocked when he stabs one of her fellow soldiers. Avishag watches a monitor on the Israeli-Egyptian border in boring 12-hour shifts. She is sickened by the discovery of the body of a Sudanese man skewered on a barbed-wire fence—one of many trying to escape. Boianjiu goes beyond their service to explore its effect on their lives. The young women saw and experienced more than they were prepared for—and when those years are over, they initially feel a letdown.

At 25, Boianjiu was the youngest recipient ever of the prestigious “5 Under 35” award, given by the National Book Foundation to new authors to watch. In this gripping debut, she weaves together the familiar coming-of-age milestones such as sexual initiation, the fierce bonds of friendship and the need for independence with the shocking realities of military life—even beyond the battlefield.

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