Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant

41MKSNhAx1LFiction — print. W. W. Norton, 2010. 253 pgs. Review copy.

I agreed to read a copy of Leegant’s novel in exchange for an honest review after the author contacted me with a personalized request. She knew from my review policy that I enjoy reading books set in the Middle East and about religions of the world.

This novel follows three individuals as they travel from New York to Jerusalem attempting to confront their pasts and their futures. Yona Stern travels to a West Bank settlement in hopes of making amends with her sister, Dena. A former drug dealer saved by orthodox religion, Mark Greenglass is a gifted Talmud teacher but still an embarrassment to his father. Aaron Blinder travels to Israel to a study abroad program for a girl but instead drops out and joins a radical fringe of Israeli society.

These three remain separated in their travels through Jerusalem having little to do with one another until political and religious extremism cause their paths to cross.

What I loved the most about this novel was the range Leegant showed in her characters’ thoughts and opinions. Not all Israelis agree with settlements in the West Bank like Dena and her family, and I’m glad that some of the characters were constructed to show the opposite of this opinion. After all, every society has their fringe, hardline radicals.

She also does a superb job in constructing her characters and the setting of the novel. I really felt like I was in Jerusalem experiencing the oppressive heat of being in the desert.

The ending wasn’t completely satisfactory to me. Each character gets his or her own conclusion but one in particular felt like a bit of a stretch and the other didn’t go far enough.

I know quite a bit about Israel, particularly its relationship with the United States because I took a class on the subject last semester. Having the extra background knowledge was nice but isn’t completely necessary for people to enjoy this novel.

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