Published by Hogarth
Publication date: September 18th 2012
Coming-of-age in Israel means something very different than it does in most countries. At 18 all Israeli youth must serve two years in the Israeli Defense Forces. In The People of Forever Are Not Afraid Shani Boianjiu takes the stories of three friends and mixing past and present explores what this time means to them and later, what it does to them.
The girls are given the responsibility of watching borders, teaching other soldiers, and manning checkpoints and yet they have no authority regardless of what they see. For Avishag, this means repeatedly catching sex traffickers bringing young, kidnapped girls into Israel and having her commanding officer/boyfriend let them go. Lea becomes a checkpoint office on a lonely stretch of road that has been closed to Palestinians for 10 years after a shooting incident. While posted there, two men and a teenage boy begin a protest to get the road re-opened but it is a farcical effort with both sides knowing exactly how the other must behave and therefore, acting their parts with an odd politeness, all knowing full well there will be no real action. And Yael uses her position to falsely accuse an Arab of winking at her, resulting in her commanding office blindfolding the man and pretending to shoot him.
Sometimes I think of things and wonder why I never thought of them before. Sometimes I remember things and beg for mercy.
What is most interesting, or perhaps disturbing, in The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, is that the more the reader learns about the girls and their childhoods, the less certain they will be as to whether the damage occurred from the military or was merely enhanced by those years. Either way, it is both disturbing and depressing. The mental and emotional schism created by the events they witness, even without being in combat, combined with the lack of usable education and training means they emerge back into society lost. Even after they create lives as adults, the pull of those years brings them back a decade later, to more destruction. The reality of life in the Israeli military, as portrayed in this novel, is grim.
Boianjiu conveys this surreal reality with a style of writing that is both numb and horrified, detached. Through the girls’ inner lives she shares the full impact of this time, both transformational and damaging and, while taking the title of a book literally may not be a good idea, one is left with the sense that, in the case of these young women, they are afraid.