Wednesday, October 20, 2010

REVIEW: Wherever You Go, by Joan Leegant

Wherever You Go, by Joan Leegant. Published 2010 by W.W. Norton & Company. Literary fiction.

When I first started reading Joan Leegant's very compelling novel Wherever You Go I was worried it would be a different sort of book than it ended up being. It  starts with the story of Yona Stern, an American on her way to Jerusalem to visit her sister Dena, from whom she's become estranged. The story behind the estrangement is melodramatic enough that I was worried the book would be equally melodramatic but I was wrong.

The novel alternates between several different narratives. After Yona we meet Mark Greenglass, a formerly observant man going to Israel to teach, and then Aaron Blinder, a college student somewhere between a nerd and loser, who finds a purpose for himself on a kibbutz. The story moves to Israel quickly and the first part of the novel focuses on how these characters come together in a tragedy which one of these characters precipitates. The aftermath, which makes up the shorter second section, falls mainly on the other two, one of whom must cross a difficult personal divide to do right by the other.

Once I got into the characters (and once I was assured that the book was not chick lit) the narrative swept me along to the devastating conflict and through the difficult peace that follows. Leegant uses the plot as a means of examining the choices that people make when they're motivated by wanting to belong, or feeling left out, or just trying to find their place in the world. Equal parts character and plot, it would make a great book club selection and provides some interesting commentary on modern Israeli life and some of the people who choose to make it their home. I would class it as an above-average read, one that readers of both popular and literary fiction will enjoy.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.