Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dispatch From The Field: JoeTakes A Sick Day To Send Us This Raving Review

There are days when a sick day is so welcome, and yesterday was one of those days. I had started All I Love And Know by Judith Frank about a week or two earlier, and loved how it pulled me in, compelled me to savor its story and turn the pages, and lingered when I had to put it down: nearly everything I want in a book. But between work and the garden’s harvest and weeding and canning the garden’s harvest, reading time has been hard to come by lately. But then I woke with a fever and had to stay home, and got to just sit and read. And I read the last 250 or so pages of this book. And loved it.

Daniel Rosen and his partner of four years, Matt Greene, are living their life together in Northampton, Massachusetts. They receive word that Daniel’s twin brother, Joel, and his wife, Iliana, have been killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, where they live, and that their wish was for Daniel to raise their two children in the event something were too happen.

From this set-up, Judith Frank takes the reader on a deeply moving, personal story. There are grieving grandparents, two scared children, the Israeli court system, along with even larger question like the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip, terrorism, and what it means to be a family. Despite tackling so many topics (I didn’t even list them all!) the author does not hit the reader over the head with any of them, nor does she skirt around the issues either. Instead she addresses these topics through the eyes and hearts of her characters, all of whom felt fully formed to me.

This summer, as rockets have been flying in Gaza, the media has been reporting, and sometimes doing a good job showing the toll the Israeli airstrikes take on Palestinian citizens, as well as the toll near constant air raids take on Israelis. But the story is so much more layered, complex, and messy, and All I Love And Know really illustrates how many more facets to this conflict there are.

The aspect of this novel that really struck me was not the story of two gay men being asked to raise the children of one of their twin brothers, or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but grief. All I Love And Know is, to me, a powerful novel on grief. There is no one way to grieve. And despite all the books on the subject, since grief is so deeply personal, it is like every grieving person is forging their own way through it. Listening to an interview with the poet Edward Hirsch on NPR this morning, brought Judith Frank’s novel to mind. He said, “There is no right way to grieve, and you have to let people grieve in the way that they can. One of the things that happens to everyone who is grief-stricken, who has lost someone, is there comes a time when everyone else just wants you to get over it, but of course you don't get over it. You get stronger; you try and live on; you endure; you change; but you don't get over it. You carry it with you.”

Hirschs’ words were exactly what I thought of Judith Frank’s novel. As Daniel’s parents, his niece and nephew, and his partner deal with their grief over the loss of Joel and Iliana, Daniel plunges into the raising of the children, never realizing the toll that his not dealing with his grief takes. This is the predominate arc of the second half of the book, and no matter how compelling the first half of the book is, it pales in comparison to the amazing second half. I was so glad to be home and reading yesterday, to be able to devour the story, and savor Judith Frank’s novel. I’ve already told three people about this book, and plan to tell many more.


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