The problems of two people

A new novel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings the human cost of war to the forefront

Katrina Wilber

A single explosion can shatter more than a single life.

We witness the aftermath of devastation on our televisions. The destruction is neatly printed in the clear black type of our newspapers. No matter how often they occur and how many people they kill or injure, the conflicts in Israel seem a lifetime and a world away.

In Pnina Moed Kass’ novel “Real Time,” two teenagers detonate explosives that turn a bus into rubble and people into bloody corpses.

The plot isn’t that simple, though. The book is told through an interwoven series of narratives that range in length from a few paragraphs to a few pages. There are a lot of characters, but Kass weaves in and out and back again so skillfully that the reader never loses track.

The characters in “Real Time” include a German teenager, two Palestinian teenagers and a young Russian woman. As their fates play out, they draw a diverse group of Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners into their lives. Nobody is spared in the aftermath of the bombing.

The pain and secrets that drive two foreign teenagers to Israel lie at the heart of the situation.

Thomas, the German teenager, goes to Israel in hopes of finding information about his Nazi grandfather, who disappeared during World War II. Vera, the Russian girl, lost her father in a messy divorce and her boyfriend to suicide. The two are on their way to a kibbutz, a type of Israeli collective settlement, when the bus they’re on explodes.

Thomas and Vera are among the unidentified wounded that arrive at a local hospital. Their injuries open old wounds for Vera’s parents and a Holocaust survivor who needs to face the fear he’s hidden for so long.

Typical U.S. teenagers go to school, drive their own or their parents’ cars and have part-time jobs. The two Palestinian teenagers who plan to kill themselves in an effort to reclaim their country have almost nothing. These men and boys are considered martyrs, a concept that is difficult for the privileged to understand.

Although the book is fictional, Kass, who has lived in the Middle East for more than 30 years, clearly outlines the poverty she’s seen. The flaking walls and lack of furniture and food in the home of one of the bombers show something many Americans cannot comprehend.

Kass minces no words. She researched hospital procedures to make those scenes true to form, and many of the narratives seem like excerpts from diaries, those private thoughts that shouldn’t be shared.

Despite the horrors Kass describes in vivid detail, the book is not merely about tragedy and death. It’s about hope, the will to live and the courage to love.