Boianjiu’s prose has a flat, harsh glare that can seem benumbing at first but evokes the deadening that comes of constant war. Part of this impressive book’s power is that it manages to re-create and rupture that numbness, war’s tedium and the damage it does to memory, intimacy, thought and affection ... Among the book’s subtle insights is that the greatest intimacy forged by war is with those one fights ... The novel repeatedly changes point of view — from first-person singular, to first-person plural, to third — as if trying to get at the truth of the conflict. Characters’ voices are sometimes indistinguishable, requiring clumsy devices to signal shifts, but the sensibilities are revealing in their range ... Boianjiu’s bracing honesty is tonic ... A fierce and beautiful portrait of the damage done by war.
Boianjiu works in simple, direct prose, with which she gives us the frustrations and annoyances of military service — as when the recruits have to leave the female dorm early in the morning to head for a checkpoint ... Exhibitionism, sexual fantasies, slack attitudes toward regulations — not much war here in these pages, just small doses of bad behavior on both sides of the line, and nearly 350 pages of frank and episodic scenes about female life in the IDF, which by midway through the book begin to lose their charm ... The frankness in the novel is refreshing, the episodic nature of its progress I found wanting.
The book has that contradictory impulse of much army fiction, in which compulsory military service is depicted as brutalising a nation's young adults (what it does to those living under military occupation is not in the frame), as well as an elevating rites-of-passage ... Initially the prose seems charmingly stilted, but soon it starts to grate like a bad translation. That's when you wish that the author had had a less indulgent editor, because there is so much good writing here: memorable detail and sharp storytelling that often gets lost amid the bad metaphors and narrative drag ... The parts that stand out are surreal comic set pieces in the vein of Catch-22 ... The narrative feels more like a succession of vignettes – it isn't strong enough to make me care about the characters, or carry the book through to its end.
The novel’s core is an exploration of modern military life in the IDF. Boianjiu dissects the layered military bureaucracy and examines the complicated gender issues that emerge when young men and women serve in close quarters. It is a revealing look inside a traditionally opaque institution ... Boianjiu shows considerable range, creating surreal, absurd dilemmas for her characters ... The People of Forever Are Not Afraid sidesteps a larger discussion of Israeli-Palestinian relations, focusing intently on the human consequences of the struggle. In this way, the author avoids a potential pitfall and keeps the novel’s focus as a character study. A deeper examination of the conflict would be interesting, but may have distracted from the author’s character-driven narrative.
Shani Boianjiu’s is an extravagant talent, which, while unevenly displayed, makes for a memorably bold novel ... In places a trance-like evocation of war without combat, power without accountability, her detached, flat prose casually combines the whiny, nasal quality of adolescence with passages of Homeric lamentation ... Each girl narrates in turn, and although one of the book’s flaws is the ennui-riddled sameness of the voices, the figures become reasonably distinct ... The characters’ suspension of identity and of history in a country which has been 70 years at war leads to a work mixing existentialist study with controlled absurdism ... Somewhere between the sardonic humour of Etgar Keret and the epic storytelling of David Grossman, Boianjiu has created a brave, beautiful political literature that is entirely her own.
Boianjiu’s plot covers a lot of ground, maybe too much, on the margins of a militarized society, including the plight of Sudanese refugees and trafficked sex workers, a queasy abortion and matter-of-fact military rape. The unrepentantly political book tends toward unsparing criticism of the moral decay of Israeli society ... The emphatically young and irreverent voices of three Israeli women, alive to the horrors and absurdities of Israel’s state of perma-war, animate this unmistakably serious and ambitious novel.
The story begins when the schoolgirls have almost finished studying 'all of Israeli history. We finished the history of the world in 10th grade'. Yet this narrative's power lies in its revelation of hidden histories, the way it opens up the inner emotional worlds of its characters beyond news headlines ... The girls are often lost for words, but the author successfully finds a voice to express the dehumanising horror of warfare in this fragmented plot held together with a passionate, poetic eloquence.
With its episodic structure, its unfolding in seemingly standalone stories actually bound together by insistent echoes, and its cast of recently-graduated young women...pretending to a maturity, a certainty, they neither possess nor successfully imitate, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid takes as its subject rites of passage, looks at transient but fraught moments in a transitional time ... In The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, Boianjiu showcases a lovely sort of simplicity, allowing the girls’ voices to ring true, to ring young and innocent and sad. In this, she strikes no false notes ... The book falls apart near the end, asked to bear a burden it has not convincingly built to. It becomes, too suddenly, with too little warning, about war, and it loses sight of the characters who helped us make sense of all that has come before.
Shani Boianjiu’s eye-opening and brutally honest debut novel chronicles the abrupt coming-of-age of three young Israeli girls—Yael, Lea and Avishag—who grow up in a small village, attend high school together and are conscripted soon afterward into the Israeli army ... In this gripping debut, she weaves together the familiar coming-of-age milestones such as sexual initiation, the fierce bonds of friendship and the need for independence with the shocking realities of military life—even beyond the battlefield.
As a novel the book is awkwardly structured. The stories are told through the first-person voices of each of the three girls — Yael, Avishag, and Lea — and also, confusingly, by a third-person narrator who sometimes refers to 'we' or 'us.' It is hard to follow the chain of events this way and the stories and anecdotes never quite come together in a unified whole ... But the stories and anecdotes abound, and some of them are first rate ... Reality in these stories can be slippery. In a perplexing rape episode, the author suggests a shifting level of reality, letting us wonder if parts of the episode are imagined ... The People of Forever Are Not Afraid provides a fine flavor of what Israeli military life is like for young women — no mean feat — and many of the episodes are engaging and revealing.
We tend to associate world-weariness with age and experience, but as Shani Boianjiu’s stunning debut demonstrates, some experiences age us independent of the actual passage of time ... At times, the novel’s reflections on love and loss, desire and despair, read like poetry. Encountering a familiar smell, a character describes it as 'the opposite of memory. A thing other than other.' And for all its bleakness, this book is not short on humor ... In this novel — as in the real-life version of Israel — the comic and the grotesque exist side by side ... In The People of Forever Are Not Afraid one sometimes feels as if the author is herself losing interest in her subject — or subjects. This might explain why this novel, so rich in its descriptions of military life and youthful angst, lacks any sense of meaningful character development.
From the start, Boianjiu effortlessly builds a sense of surreal contrast between what it’s like to be 19, carefree and full of desire, and what it’s like to be out in the Negev desert, firing automatic weapons and wielding authority over people just months younger than you ... On the surface, her narrators appear to be rendering their lives with an almost diary-like casualness ... Yet because these bizarre, poetic scenarios are so fragmented in nature...they feel, at once, not just like mundane, everyday moments but like distant, flitting memories ... Tedium, mortality and ephemerality are classic features of coming-of-age novels and also of war fiction; here, they are fused fascinatingly together ... With wit and subtlety, Boianjiu has created a refreshingly original kind of Bildungsroman.
Here’s what we probably don’t know, and what Boianjiu’s impressive debut gives us some inkling of: what it’s like to be a teenage girl in the army ... Sometimes the three girls blur together, but mostly Boianjiu’s in control of what she wants to blur. Her POV shifts and rapid-fire language reflect the ongoing merger of ordinary life and PTSD and how the heightened awareness of a country on permanent alert turns into a kind of moral slackness, with results that range from inconsequential to horrifying.
Boianjiu’s prose is coarse, raw and altogether befitting her subject. Hard to read in places, the novel veers back and forth between the present and the past, describing ugly lives filled with emotional detachment from violence, casual sex that seems almost conquering in nature, and complicated, disturbing relationships with families, other soldiers and the people these women protect and serve ... Not for the squeamish. Readers will either embrace the complexity of the writing or become maddeningly lost as the author meanders through a hot, dry country devoid of tenderness.