books, Political Writing, Reading

“Dinner at the Center of the Earth” by Nathan Englander

          “This time, as with every time, when the fighting starts it will be more terrible than the fight that came before. Always it is the worst, the most violent, the least restrained, a steady escalation. The singular rule.
          And once the invasion begins? There’s no knowing how and when, or even if, the bloodshed will ever end. Only that both sides will battled for justice, killing each other in the name of those freshly killed, honoring the men who died avenging those who, before them, died avenging.”

IMG_0797 2Pulitzer finalist Nathan Englander has created a pulse-quickening story of war and espionage in one of the world’s most tangled and endless conflicts – the struggle for land and sovereignty in the heart of the Middle East. Englander sets his characters amid this familiar cycle of violence, bringing names and faces to the nameless, faceless battles that rage on. “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” reveals the story of Z, a Jewish-American man at first drawn into the ‘perimeters’ of the fight and then unraveled by it.

“Disconsolate, he trolls further and further back, trying to map every decision from childhood onward that had put him in this mess. How could he have ended up here? How had a little, religious, Jewish-American boy from Long Island become an Israeli operative, living undercover in Paris, and now a traitor to his adopted state? How could he have ended up being so many kinds of people at once?”

Englander starts rather slowly and it takes a few chapters to acclimate to the jumps in time and space, but once you are able to get your bearings, the story is seductive. For a political thriller of sorts, the characters and the plot points are actually remarkably apolitical. Englander’s is a novel of individuals, of characters fumbling their way through dangerous liaisons and entanglements, often enacting roles that chafe and scratch.

“It’s a tricky thing trying to touch the heart of a man who has, toward you, been only heartless. Hard to personalize yourself to the person who has seen you undone.”

This, in fact, is precisely what Nathan Englander has set out to do, and he has done so impressively.


Thank you to Alfred A. Knopf for providing an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.