By turns subversive and darkly comic, brutal and tender, Ron Leshems debut novel is an international literary sensation, winner of Israels top award for literature and the basis for a prizewinning film. Charged with brilliance and daring, hypnotic in its intensity, Beaufort is at once a searing coming-of-age story and a novel for our timesone of the most powerful, visceral portraits of the horror, camaraderie, and absurdity of war in modern fiction.
Beaufort. To the handful of Israeli soldiers occupying the ancient crusader fortress, it is a little slice of hella forbidding, fear-soaked enclave perched atop two acres of land in southern Lebanon, surrounded by an enemy they cannot see. And to the thirteen young men in his command, Twenty-one-year-old Lieutenant Liraz Erez Liberti is a taskmaster, confessor, and the only hope in the face of attacks that come out of nowhere and missions seemingly designed to get them all killed.
All around them, tension crackles in the air. Long stretches of boredom and black humor are punctuated by flashes of terror. And the threat of death is constant. But in their stony haven, Erez and his soldiers have created their own little world, their own rules, their own language. And here Erez listens to his men build castles out of words, telling stories, telling lies, talking incessantly of women, sex, and dead comrades. Until, in the final days of the occupation, Erez and his squad of fed-up, pissed-off, frightened young soldiers are given one last order: a mission that will shatter all remaining illusionsand stand as a testament to the universal, gut-wrenching futility of war.
A lot of people have lost a lot of people since we lost Yonatan. Weve lost others since then, too, because another war broke out and everything got more savage. But more indifferent, too. And whos got enough time on his hands to deal with what happened back then? When it broke out we lost Barnoy. Then another eleven guys. And when the numbers stabilized at nine hundred and twenty and it looked like it was over, we lost Kokas brother, whod followed in his footsteps and enlisted with us. Weve made love a thousand times since then, its not like we havent, and weve laughed a thousand times. We went on to other places, we escaped and came back, we remembered. But quietly. We imagined how well return to the fortress, to our mountain. Therell be a hotel there, maybe. Or a place for lovers to park. Or maybe it will be deserted. Therell be peace. And I will lead her along the paths, well walk hand in hand. ...
Beaufort is a beautifully crafted work of fiction that reads more like an autobiography than a novel. Lethem spent hundreds of hours interviewing Israeli solders stationed in Lebanon before Israel's withdrawal in 2000. The result is a tale that feels entirely authentic. It does exactly what good historical fiction should do – it educates the reader about a specific time and place, making them feel as if they're truly present. The reader develops tremendous empathy for the protagonist and his "kids" (as Liberti refers to his troops). The narrative draws the reader in completely.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (951 words).
Beaufort Castle, the setting for Beaufort, sits on a high, rocky outcropping in southern Lebanon (map). Known in Arabic as Shqif Arnun ("High Rock"), it soars 1000 meters (more than 3000 feet) above the Litani River Valley. Its commanding, 360-degree views have made it perfectly suited for a command post or lookout, and it has been used as such for over 1000 years.
Not much is known of Beaufort's early history. Given its ideal location, scholars believe it may have been used in Biblical or Roman times as a military outpost. Arab occupants enlarged it; and the French Crusaders, who occupied it beginning in 1139 BCE, made further refinements to its structure. Passageways and underground chambers were...
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