Summary and book reviews of It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams

It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street

A Jerusalem Memoir

By Emma Williams

It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street
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  • Paperback: Dec 2009,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

In August 2000 Emma Williams arrived with her three small children in Jerusalem to join her husband and to work as a doctor. A month later, the second Palestinian intifada erupted. For the next three years, she was to witness an astonishing series of events in which hundreds of thousands of lives, including her own, were turned upside down.

Williams lived on the very border of East and West Jerusalem, working with Palestinians in Ramallah during the day and spending evenings with Israelis in Tel Aviv. Weaving personal stories and conversations with friends and colleagues into the long and fraught political background, Williams' powerful memoir brings to life the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She vividly recalls giving birth to her fourth child during the siege of Bethlehem and her horror when a suicide bomber blew his own head into the schoolyard where her children played each day.

Understanding in her judgment, yet unsparing in her honesty, Williams exposes the humanity, as well as the hypocrisy at the heart of both sides' experiences. Anyone wanting to understand this intractable and complex dispute will find this unique account a refreshing and an illuminating read.

Introduction: Just over the Hill

The first I heard of the plan to move our young family from New York to Jerusalem was on an October night’s drive along the Sawmill Parkway to Connecticut.

“How’d you like to live in Jerusalem for a couple of years?” Andrew and I had been married for eight years. Soon after our wedding in Britain I’d joined him in Pakistan where I worked as a junior surgeon in a Pakistan hospital, and we moved to New York in 1992.

Now it was late October, 1999. Andrew was at the wheel of a rented car. We’d stood in line for burgers and milkshakes at the Red Rooster in Brewster and the smell of French fries hung stale in the car air.

“Might be good.” I needed more information. “What’s up?”

“The main UN office for the Middle East peace process is setting up a unit for regional politics out there, helping with the negotiations that are looking encouraging. The lead guy has asked if I’d be ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is remote to most of us in the West - an abstract that one glosses over as one reads the morning paper.  We hear of the suicide bombers and the checkpoints and it's easy to dismiss these stories as just another act of violence in a place that's far, far away.  Emma Williams' book, It's Easier to Reach Heaven than the End of the Street, goes a long way toward bringing this conflict into our living rooms, helping us to understand its complexities and explaining its human toll, putting a face to those suffering its effects.

When the Intifada erupted in September 2000, Williams was in a unique position as a British doctor, wife and mother living in Jerusalem.  Her friends and co-workers included both Palestinians and Israelis, which allowed her to gather unvarnished opinions from both sides of the dispute. Using this inside information she completely captures the thoughts of the people with whom she mixed, relaying their opinions without judgment. She truly understands both points of view and how and why her friends' attitudes evolved over time, and unreservedly conveys this to her readers - vividly detailing the decline in relations between the two peoples as the violence escalated....

This is a valuable book for anyone who would like to understand the tensions between these two peoples, and the author's ability to boil down the situation's complexities into easily understandable and relatable prose makes It's Easier to Reach Heaven a must-read.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
Arena

A sustained masterpiece of the contemporary genre. It deserves to be read very widely, and almost certainly will be once it becomes more accessible in paperback and is translated, as it surely must be, into Middle-Eastern and European languages. Nothing I have read during the last decade about the Israel-Palestine conflict in journalistic reportage, political analyses, histories, personal stories, or novels comes close to its brilliance in exposing the accumulating human debris of this monstrous 'situation'. Williams' writing in this memoir displays the tenacity of Anna Funder, the intrepidity of a Ryszard Kapuscinski, the politically gendered sensitivity of Nadine Gordimer, the reconciliatory instincts of Desmond Tutu, and the literary competence of Joyce Carol Oates. It's a joy to read.

The Jewish Chronicle

Short of a crash course in Nablus or a Gaza refugee camp, I recommend Emma Williams's expatriate memoir of Jerusalem in the second intifada as an initial exposure to the dispiriting reality behind the propaganda, theirs and ours... Israelis and Palestinians are like angry twins joined at the hip. [This book] is an engrossing exploration of what that means."

The Spectator (UK)

[A] brilliant memoir...she succeeds like few others in her ability to view the situation through the eyes of Jew and Arab... Drawing our sympathy now to one, now to the other, she envies those with a 'one-eyed view', undisturbed by the layers of complication... Her eye for detail conveys the situation more painfully than statistics... What she has produced is a human document; sensitive, compassionate and superbly written. The exemplary notes, maps and glossary... help to make this memoir more illuminating and instructive than many a pundit's tome.

The Guardian (UK)

This book must be one of the most honest accounts of those terrible years. It's proportionate, subtle and comprehensive... biased towards nobody but the voices of moderation and hope.

Times Literary Supplement

[A] superb memoir... If Williams is as fine a physician as she is a memoirist, I would entrust my own innards to her any day of the week. Splendidly crafted and passionately engaged, this is the most artistically delectable way of boning up on the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle that one could wish for.

Popmatters

When Emma Williams, her husband and their three children move from New York City to Jerusalem, they are thrown headlong into what she terms 'the situation'. 'The situation' is ostensibly a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over land. However on the ground, Williams discovers that, '[I]t’s a maelstrom, a tragedy of our times, a shameful failure of the modern world. And it looks so different from over there… that the view from New York verges on dangerous fantasy'.... Reading Williams’ memoir is a chance to pull ourselves out of this fantasy. Whatever your view on this conflict, something about her memoir will shake your moorings.

Library Journal

Starred Review. A beautifully written report of the human costs of the ongoing struggle between two peoples unable to live in peace in the land they both love, focusing on the experiences of fear and suffering, violence and compassion. Highly recommended.

New York Review of Books

…notable for the depth of observation and insight and for the vividness of the descriptions of particular events and people… a moving and beautifully written book... It will certainly help outsiders to better understand both sides and their struggle.

Huffington Post - Patricia DeGennaro

If you read one book on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, read this one. You get a good dose of the politics and history of the past and present, but woven through it all is the humanity of both Palestinians and Israelis, through the eyes of an exceptionally gifted observer. In the end, Williams is right on target when she says:

As long as it remains easier to reach heaven than the end of the street -- or field, or school or hospital or the next-door village, let alone Jerusalem, the City of God -- then no security measure yet devised will stop people seeking a gruesome short cut to end their hell on earth.

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Beyond the Book

Yom Ha'atzmaut & Al-Nakba
There have long been Jewish communities in Palestine, but populations saw particularly rapid growth as Jews fled European pogroms during the 19th century.  A large wave of immigration, mainly from the Russian Empire began in 1881 and continued up until the start of World War I. During this period, known as the First and Second Aliya ("ascent"), over 70,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, establishing the first kibbutz and reviving Hebrew as the national language; before this wave of immigration it is estimated that Jews represented about 4% of the local population.

In 1917, with the Ottoman Empire routed and the British in control of Jerusalem, British Foreign ...

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