Englander gives us a novel that describes the ambiguity of the Arab-Israeli conflict via a series of contacts between members representing the two sides. First, there is the General who has led attacks and wars against Arabs living in territory next to Israel. He is merciless, brilliant and has little guilt about the effects his actions protecting his country cause. He is a beloved figure and we meet him as he lays dying in an Israeli hospital.
Next is the man that the General imprisoned years ago in a secret cell. No one except the General and the man guarding the prisoner knows where he is kept and why he is there.
There is a meeting and a short love affair between a character known as Z and a waitress. The waitress is actually a rich woman who says she does service work to retain her identity. She takes Z to meet her father in Italy but it is in reality to take him
A love affair develops between an Israeli woman who is a resident of a kibbutz and a Palestinian constantly mapping out Israeli territory in order to present his maps to his Hamas colleagues for use in an attack against the Jewish state. The two decide that they want to experience a dinner date but find that the only place they can have it would be in one of the tunnels dug by Hamas. These, of course, are to be used to invade Israeli at the proper time.
Each of the short vignettes used by Englander in the book illustrates the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Both sides have a point; fight for their point, and refuse to recognize that the other side also has a point which could lead to settlement if everybody would give in a little.
The author is not presenting any other argument other than that the conflict that has gone on for years could be settled if both sides listened to the other and tried to get a solution based on discussion and coming onto common ground. Very well done and certainly an argument for reason instead of conflict as the only answer to this grave conflict.
9/17 Paul Lane
DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH by Nathan Englander. Knopf; First Edition edition (September 5, 2017). ISBN 978-1524732738. 272p.