Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant

martydah's review against another edition

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This was an interesting redemption/coming of age hard story that enfolds in the stories of three characthers: Yona Stern, who has come to Israel to make amends with her radicalized settler sister, Dena and to come to terms with both her past mistakes and her future path. David Greenglass, who converted to Orthodoxy in order to save his own life from his drug dealing past, is now facing a crisis of faith and returns to a teach position in Jerusalem after attempting to make amends with his unOrthodox parents and his hopelessly drug addicted ex-girlfriend. Aaron Blinder is trying to outrun his father's shadow, a famous writer who uses the Holocaust to fuel his writing career, by joining up with a domestic terrorist cell. All three are swept up into a devastating terrorist event in strikingly different results.

I really enjoyed the three different viewpoints which mirror the tumultuous political and social situation in the Israeli state.

gr8reader's review against another edition

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Although a quick read,it has depth......Story of 3 main characters, each chapter focuses on one character's thread of the story and in Part 3, they all come together. Made me think of "To The End Of The Land" in some ways, though this was a much easier read.

zoemig's review against another edition

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Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant weaves together three individuals whose lives become entangled in the volatile climate of Israeli society. Yona travels to Israel to try to mend things with her sister, estranged for over ten years, a woman whose life has become the polar opposite of her own. Meanwhile Mark travels back to New York City, the place where he was saved from drugs by his faith, from Jerusalem, to give lectures on the Talmud, trying to ignore the sensation that what he is speaking about isn't what he believes anymore. Finally, Aaron is a college dropout who has a famous writer for a father but can't seem to find a place he belongs so he quits school during his year-abroad and joins an extreme Israeli fringe group. Yona, Mark and Aaron are tied together by the impact faith and Judaism will have on their lives, changing them forever in a moment that can never be undone.

Wherever You Go is the debut novel from Leegant, but it is filled with a wisdom and maturity that is far from amateur. It's an intelligent book, and despite it's slender size- under 300 pages- it is certainly not a light read. The reader is instantly sucked into a rich and vibrant world, beautiful yet violent, three lives teetering on the edge of breaking. Wherever You Go is incredibly powerful, beautiful, well written, and absolutely horrifying at the same time. Two weeks after finishing it I'm still unable to get it out of my mind. The stories it tells are both unique- I've never read anything like it before- and extremely relevant. Leegant has her finger on the pulse of Israeli society and takes the reader into this foreign yet fascinating environment with skill of an insider, unsurprising considering she spends part of her time living in Israel while teaching there.

All the reasons that Wherever You Go is upsetting are the same reasons it is such an important book. Normally when I read a book which follows the narrative of multiple characters I find myself more enchanted by one storyline and impatient for my "favourite" character to return to centre stage. In this case, all three stories are not only absolutely riveting, but definitely distinct from each other as well, three separate voices that at no point become muffled together. I only wished that a little more time had been spent with the characters near the ending; possibly it is my own desire for closure but the conclusion felt slightly rushed. Perhaps being Jewish myself biased me when deciding to pick up Wherever You Go, but regardless of the reader's faith- if any- the novel offers complex characters as well as a thought-provoking narrative and compelling setting.

My biggest complaint? That Leegant's work isn't more widely available, I had to special order her first book An Hour in Paradise, which is a collection of short stories, from the States. Fortunately, I know it'll be worth the wait. I'll also be certain to pre-order whatever Leegant publishes next and if there's a smile on my face when it arrives it's not because I expect the story to be completely bright and cheerful but because I know that whatever she writes it'll be incredibly beautiful and powerful, just like Wherever You Go is.

thepickygirl's review against another edition

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Joan Leegant's novel Wherever You Go is both exactly what you'd expect and nothing you'd expect from a novel set in Israel. Personally, I expected judgment and religious discourse. Instead, I found a very thoughtful novel, which I thought aptly expressed the ambiguity toward Israel many Americans feel.

Partially, Leegant is able to do this because of her characters: three Americans with arms and legs and whole bodies reaching, willingly or unwillingly, to that Holy Land, Jerusalem. Yona - to see her estranged sister, now a mother of five married to a radical and living in the West Bank. Mark - whose return to New York causes him to question his devotion and career, teaching the Talmud. Aaron - to find a place to fit, away from his famous father's gaze and disapproval.

The three are connected only by one instant in the novel, toward the very end, and I very much appreciated the more natural flow. I dislike it when authors attempt to neatly pull together three characters without much cause, in an attempt to change them in some way. In Wherever You Go, however, the change has been occurring, and the reader witnesses the transformation through flashbacks and narration: Yona's acceptance of herself and her sister; Mark's realization that a devoted life doesn't have to be a purely sacrificial life; Aaron's attempt to overcome apathy.

Since it is such a character-driven novel, it did take me a bit to get into, but I should also tell you how much I fell in love with Mark Greenglass. I could honestly have followed him alone throughout the entire novel. I loved that Leegant juxtaposed his addiction to drugs with his addiction to the Talmud and how oblivious he is to it until he must face the one person capable of recalling him to his former self. He stays, awkwardly, in his parent's luxurious Manhattan home while there on a teaching job, and his vain, proud mother slowly tries to make up for his father's coldness. And the moment when he realizes he has been punishing himself because of his former life only reinforced the beauty of his character.

In Wherever You Go, Leegant is critical of extremism, whether through Yona's multiple affairs with married men, Mark's denial of human affection, or Aaron's misguided political beliefs. For as much as this is a book about Judaism, it's much more a book about fanaticism and the guises we use to cover up brutality and cruelty.

unabridgedchick's review against another edition

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This beautiful book captured me from the first page: Leegant's writing style is effortless, detailed, lyrical, and compelling. In a single page, she sketches the beauty of a location, the mood of the setting, a flashback, the present challenge. Set in modern-day Israel, it follows three Jewish Americans who come to Israel for different reasons -- reconciliation, escape, a desire for peace -- and while the story features some complicated back story (the situation with Israeli settlers, for example) Leegant presents crucial information without bogging down the narrative.

While the events are very contemporary and specific to Israel, the challenges the characters experience are ones that are familiar and resonate. I didn't race through the story, exactly, but there was a sense of urgency building, even as the characters waited, considered, circled restlessly. There's a tension from wondering, when will it happen?, 'it' being the terrible heartache or betrayal or violence we know is waiting to emerge. Topically, the characters weren't entirely likeable but they were compelling, their pain real, and I actually found myself sympathetic to almost all of them. Leegant created people who are unlike me, with values unlike mine, that I ultimately cared about; she articulated a world alien to me that I wanted to become a part of, and her skill is that all she wrote felt real. The pain and hunger the characters felt were the kinds of emotions I've felt before.

This would be a fantastic novel for a book group or anyone who enjoys fiction that educates and enlightens (in a subtle way!), or a reader who loves complicated characters and a beautiful, fractious locale. This is a book that I suspect will stick with me for a long time -- I'm still chewing over it as I try to read other books. Lovely, moving, beautiful.

lcline1981's review against another edition

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"Aaron knelt beneath a shaky tree and slid his two gym bags off his shoulders, then looked back. He could hear them murmuring in the dark, Ben Ami's nasal whispers, Davidson's reluctant grunts. He wished they'd hurry up, wished they'd stop arguing so he could forget about their big teary drama and concentrate on what he was meant to do and let God or Shroeder or whoever else be the judge."

I have been tossing around how I was going to review this book for the past week or so. I finally settled on beginning with the quote on page 162, which is where the book really came to life for me. The novel is the story of three Americans, tied to Israel, all in different ways. Yona is a New Yorker whose estranged sister is living in a Zionist commune. She goes back to Israel, where she and her sister had their falling out as college students, to try to make amends. Aaron is a young man, trying to escape the influence of his Holocaust novelist father, and to make his own identity in Jerusalem, away from what he sees as his rather pathetic life in the US. Greenglass is a once faithful man, who seems to be slipping, holding on to his tenuous relationships with his family, his past and his religion. He receives an invitation to teach in Israel, where he hopes to leave behind his entanglements and reinvigorate his faith. All of these characters end up meeting, in the second section of the book, and becoming entwined in something bigger than their individual longings that lead them to Jerusalem.

For me, the most compelling of the narratives in Part I of the novel belonged to Greenglass. Each of the characters come to Israel looking for something more, atonement, maybe? Validation? Leegant's book is timely in that it addresses the appeal of radicalism. A character like the young American Aaron is not the typical picture of a "radical," but is perhaps a picture we should consider. I also thought that her prose was sparse, but effective. Even in the short, rather arbitrary passage I've selected above, the economy of words and their effect is clear. That is what I enjoyed about the book.

I also found the last two sections of the book to be emotionally satisfying. I became more attached to the characters that felt distant early in the book and the plot really picked up. I was really ready for the action in the final parts after the build up early in the book. That isn't to say that there wasn't a purpose for the build-up, because I certainly did understand the characters and I wanted to see them all come together.

What didn't work for me was the pacing of the book. The parts that I liked, and wanted to keep reading, were too short, and the buildup to them was too long. Like I said above, the book really began for me just before Part 2, more than halfway through the book. I have read a few books lately where I found shifting perspective to be distracting, and I think I initially felt nervous about that style in this book. However, I soon grew accustomed to the characters, and knew immediately the focus of each chapter.

Overall: I would recommend this book for anyone interested in examinations of faith, or for anyone interested in Israel. In the end, I was glad I read it because I got to meet and know some of the characters; in particular, Greenglass and Yona. I found the stories about family touching in the final pages.

**I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

nyertryingtoreadeverything's review against another edition

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it took me until the end of part 1 to really get into it. once i did i couldnt stop. amazing writing, wonderful story. so glad i read it

whatsheread's review against another edition

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Wherever You Go is an interesting story of people searching - for answers, for forgiveness, for a sense of belonging - but ultimately forgettable. None of the characters really stand out as strong leads, and their actions are collectively a bit predictable and forced. Something as messy as race relations in Israel should not tie up into such a tidy bow as this does. Readers will appreciate the chance to learn more about the Israeli culture and daily battles against the Palestinians but feel that Joan Leegant continues to sugarcoat the issues and make them palatable for American readers. The entire novel left me feeling disappointed at the possibilities left unfulfilled.

notinjersey's review against another edition

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hard to get into but became more interesting as it went on.