I received a copy of Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant from the author for review.
About the Book:
I don’t usually use pre-written summaries, but in this case, the blurb on the back of the book is pretty much what I’d planned to write myself. If you’re extremely spoiler-sensitive, just skip to “My Thoughts” and you’ll get a general sense of the book without specifics!
“Yona Stern has traveled to Jerusalem from New York to make amends with her sister, a stoic mother of five dedicated to the hardline West Bank settlement cause. Mark Greenglass, a gifted Talmud teacher and a former drug dealer saved by religion, has lost his passion and wonders if he’s done with God. Enter Aaron Blinder, an unstable college dropout with a history of failure who finds a home on the radical fringe of Israeli society…Wherever You Go tells the story of three Americans in Israel and the attractions — and dangers — of Jewish religious and political extremism.”
As often happens with books that are frequently reviewed over a short period of time, I had read a lot about Wherever You Go before I actually read the novel myself. I knew it told three interwoven stories, that the writing was lovely, and that it explored Jewish faith and politics, but that’s all I knew going in.
The writing is, indeed, lovely. Leegant writes easily yet with a sense of tension and movement behind her lines. She does not allow herself to get stuck on a particular sentence format but skillfully mixes long and short, semicolon-ed and colon-ed, fragmented and complete, so that the novel has a very dynamic, real feel to it. For instance, in just a few carefully chosen sentences on the first page, Leegant effectively evokes an airport arrivals terminal:
“The metallic clanging. The loudspeakers blaring in five languages. The luggage carousel coughed up its half-digested suitcases.
“Yona Stern dragged her valises onto a cart and wheeled it to the line for Passport Control, her brain on automatic after the twelve-hour flight and the surreal change in time — it was still yesterday at home — threading her way through a sea of Hasidim in inky black hats, as if a flock of crows had swooped down and settled on everyone’s heads.”
The dialogue, too, comes across as very realistic, the sort of conversations you can imagine actual people having. The writing is not the focus, yet it is executed in a way that enhances the meat of the novel, evoking precise scenes and building up a nearly tangible atmosphere around the story as it unfolds.
The three stories are interwoven well. Leegant spends enough time with each character for the reader to get a sense of who each is and how s/he has come to be the way s/he is. The main characters are remarkably developed considering that the novel, only just over 250 pages long, also advances three complex story lines and creates a rich setting unfamiliar to many readers.
I had hoped to learn a bit about the situation in Israel, which I did. I had worried this particular theme would be inaccessible to someone without much foreknowledge, but I did not find that to be the case at all. Leegant touches on many facets of an impossibly complex situation and ties each back to its place within the whole. While readers looking for a deeper analysis may be left wanting, those wishing to explore the topic through fiction will most likely be satisfied, as I was.
I can’t put my finger on precisely why, but as I reached the end of the novel, I realized it hadn’t had the emotional impact I’d been anticipating. One story ended perfectly, I thought, but I wanted another to go further. The third, I felt, ended at an awkward point and left me wishing I knew either more or less. Readers who know how attached I get to endings will realize that the fact that this slightly off conclusion didn’t turn me against the book means there was plenty in Wherever You Go to make up for it!
Overall, I enjoyed Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant. Anyone who enjoys well-written fiction about contemporary issues will most likely enjoy it as well, and I think it would make an great book group selection.
Those are my thoughts. Check out Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant on Goodreads or LibraryThing, or read a plethora of other bloggers’ reviews! The author also wrote a guest post focusing on her inspiration for Wherever You Go for In The Next Room that I found very interesting.