Of Winter’s Cost
by Geoff Akers
Grosvenor House Publishing ISBN: 978-1781485668
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Our thanks for this review to Jonathan Stones Ll.B who is a retired solicitor and recent pilgrim.
‘Of Winter’s Cost’ addresses a complex and important subject. The novel spreads itself across three generations of Jewish men in the same family, spanning the period from the German invasion of Poland in 1939 to present day Israel-Palestine. Any reasonably objective visitor to the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem cannot fail to be struck by the glaring irony it represents in the comparisons between the treatment meted out to Jews in the twentieth century, and the discriminatory treatment which Israelis are now visiting upon Palestinians in the present day. And it is precisely this tragic irony which is the central theme of the novel. Interestingly, the author dedicates the book to the memory of Israel Shahak, ‘a tireless campaigner for justice and human rights in his adopted country’, to whose story the character of Leo in the novel owes much. Like Shahak, Leo is a young Polish Jew who survives the Warsaw Ghetto, and like him he emigrates to Palestine and spends the rest of his life in opposition to the dehumanising aspects of aggressive Zionism. Benny, a somewhat peripheral character in the narrative, is Leo’s son-in-law who appears to embrace uncritically the concept of settlement in the Occupied Territories and moves after Leo’s death to the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba on the outskirts of Hebron, and Sam is Leo’s grandson, torn in his loyalties between his father and grandfather, and who as a member of the Israeli Defense Forces, takes part in the battles of Jenine and Ramallah.
The narratives of Leo and Sam are interestingly juxtaposed in alternate chapters, with Leo’s story conducted in the third person, and Sam’s in the first. This device enables the author to create some highly effective contrasts between the oppressions endured by Leo during the war, and the oppressive actions perpetrated in the name of the state of Israel in which Sam is an increasingly uneasy participator. The back-to-back accounts of the Warsaw Uprising and the siege of Jenine, both vividly described, are a case in point. It is in these periods of action in which events are largely allowed to speak for themselves that the novel is at its strongest. But as these parallel narratives continue, the didactic tone of the writing increasingly dominates the accounts of both characters. It is as if the author doesn’t quite trust his readers enough to be able to draw their own conclusions as to the significance of the passages he describes. The effect of this apparent overwriting is not only somewhat oppressive, but towards the end, causes the narrative to feel rushed, as if the author is hurrying to his conclusion, which curiously takes the form of two alternative and totally speculative accounts of the future of Israel and the Middle East, one apocalyptic and one optimistic, tacked onto the novel by way of an unnecessary epilogue. It is a pity that a novel which often speaks powerfully about the effects of racial bigotry upon succeeding generations, should end in a somewhat unfocused way.
Featured in Bible Lands, Winter 2013