Beaufort's narrator is Liraz "Erez" Liberti, a twenty-one year
old Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) responsible for a squad of
thirteen young men. Liberti relates his experiences and those of his men as they
staff an exposed Israeli outpost in Southern Lebanon shortly before and during
its abandonment in 2000. Like many war stories, Beaufort focuses on the
camaraderie that develops between the soldiers as they mature into men. It
explores the men's lives and feelings as they face hours of isolation and
boredom punctuated by periods of terror and violence, as well as the physical
and emotional toll war takes on the men and their families.
This first-person account reads as if it were Liberti's diary, or a long letter home that Liberti will never mail. As such, the text is a stream-of-consciousness, particularly in the novel's beginning. It's raw, it's crass, it's slangy, and it's hard to follow. The first twenty or thirty pages can be very off-putting, and many readers will abandon it soon after starting because the style is so foreign. This is unfortunate, since it does settle down to a more narrative, coherent story after the initial two or three chapters, and once the reader adjusts to the author's style, they will discover a realistic and timely coming-of-age novel.
One distraction for some readers could be that almost all the characters in the book are males in their late teens or very early twenties. They talk the way men in this age-bracket do when in an unrestrained setting. There is lots of profanity, bravado and preoccupation with sex. Again, the initial exposure is a bit like a slap in the face or a cold shower; it's shocking. Readers sensitive to graphic language should take a pass on this one.
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.
About the Author: 32-year-old Ron Leshem is deputy director in charge of programming at Channel Two, Israel's main commercial television network. Like most Israeli men, he is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces but spent his tour of duty as a self-described "pencil pusher" who never heard a shot fired in anger. Beaufort, published in Israel in 2005 as If Heaven Exists, spent 18 months on the bestseller lists, nine months at No.1 and, in 2006, won the Sapir Prize, Israel's top literary award. The film version of Beaufort, which Leshem coauthored with director Joseph Cedar, won the Berlin International Film Festival's Silver Bear for Best Director. Leshem lives in Tel Aviv and is at work on his second novel.
This review was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the February 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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