Dinner at the Center of the Earth is a thriller and a love story, told by brilliant best selling author Nathan Englander. A Long Island, Jewish American man is a spy for Israel, becomes a traitor, and ends up in a one man prison in the Negev desert with his guard for a dozen years. We learn all that leads up to the imprisonment, the emotional rollercoaster he experiences with his love for his country, a beautiful relationship with a Palestinian woman and a tricky friendship with a boating companion/business partner, all challenged by the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the violent discourse in the Middle East.
Although the spy’s actions categorizing him as a traitor were against Israel, he was only supporting the Palestinians in order to stop the cycle of violence, which ultimately would benefit the country he fought for. His decisions were well meaning in his mind and complex, but with the countries in question, once innocent people die, there is no conceding on either side for fear of seeming weak.
For much of the time the traitor is imprisoned, the Israeli leader, The General, (representing Ariel Sharon) remained in a coma, while his followers prayed for peace. So much regret mixed with unending violence and pride perpetuate the scheming and fighting, and Englander’s characters gives us an overview of points of view from the constant and never ending battles in a region where they have what seems like a pipe dream for peace.
Dinner at The Center of The Earth is a thriller with undercover spies, a love story and secret escape routes. This laugh out loud funny, brilliant and insightful approach makes for an absorbing and exciting read despite the gruesome realities of an ongoing and devastating war and any background knowledge of the Middle East conflict, opinions and emotions the reader may carry into it.
I highly recommend this book, especially for book clubs and people interested in Israel. Nathan Englander is a brilliant speaker, and his life experiences have shaped his thoughts and opinions so strongly; combined with his talent for storytelling, he is an exceptional writer. Englander wants people to be empathetic and to think of others, to just be kind. Unfortunately, war does not have much room for empathy, and although some of the Israelis and Palestinians want to be kind and caring, there are enough decision makers and leaders who are warriors – who will not allow deaths of their people to go without retaliation, vengeance or repercussion. He conveys his ideas on the Israeli – Palestinian war through this fictional thriller with multiple layers. He shows us that the pursuit of peace is not simple and human nature can be consumed by “an eye for an eye”, but for love, it may just be possible to set vengeance aside…and go out for dinner.
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About the Author (picked up from nathanenglander.com):
Nathan Englander’s most recent book is the novel Dinner at the Center of the Earth. He is the author of the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (advance praise here), as well as the internationally bestselling story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, and the novel The Ministry of Special Cases (all published by Knopf/Vintage). He was the 2012 recipient of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for What We Talk About. His short fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Washington Post, as well as The O. Henry Prize Stories and numerous editions of The Best American Short Stories, including 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories. Translated into twenty languages, Englander was selected as one of “20 Writers for the 21st Century” by The New Yorker, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a PEN/Malamud Award, the Bard Fiction Prize, and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. He’s been a fellow at the Dorothy & Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and at The American Academy of Berlin. In 2012, along with the publication of his new collection, Englander’s play The Twenty-Seventh Man premiered at The Public Theater, and his translation New American Haggadah(edited by Jonathan Safran Foer) was published by Little Brown. He also co-translated Etgar Keret’s Suddenly A Knock at the Door, published by FSG. He is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and daughter.