On September 6, 1970, twelve-year-old Martha Hodes and her thirteen-year-old sister were flying unaccompanied back to New York City from Israel when their plane was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and forced to land in the Jordan desert. Too young to understand the sheer gravity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Martha coped by suppressing her fear and anxiety. Nearly a half-century later, her memories of those six days and nights as a hostage are hazy and scattered. Was it the passage of so much time, or that her family couldn't endure the full story, or had trauma made her repress such an intense life-and-death experience? A professional historian, Martha wanted to find out.
Intriguing ... The story has all the makings of a real-life thriller. But soon Hodes encounters a narrative problem: She remembers very little about those days ... What gives her book its propulsive force: her effort not only to piece together the details of the hijacking and its aftermath, but to make sense of the omissions in her own memory ... Hodes examines the episode with a historian’s meticulousness and a reporter’s zeal ... Capturing no sense of imminent danger, and no genuine recollection of emotion, Hodes’s story remains at a frustrating remove. While reading it, I felt at times as though I was viewing the hijacking through the thick pane of an airplane cabin window. With too many unknowns, Hodes tends to rely on the unsatisfying vagueness of rhetorical questions ... ome of the most compelling scenes in the book have nothing to do with the hijacking, but rather deal with the author’s family and unconventional upbringing.
Her propulsive, high-stress journey is filled with dread and fear, underpinned by her hard-won compassion for the profound pain her long-ago self believed she had no choice but to disown ... She doggedly sifts through official documents, media accounts, government and corporate archives, and various other sources ... Her written record turns out to be almost as spotty and elusive as her memory. Ms. Hodes turns to her research to fill in the gaps ... In reclaiming her personal history, Ms. Hodes has provided a lesson for us all in the power of memory both to conceal and heal.
An extraordinary task ... Hodes calls the book a 'personal history' rather than a memoir, and that is apt. If memoir brings the devices of fiction to the task of autobiography, then Hodes has brought the instruments and procedures of historical biography to her own personal narrative ... There are things that the writing of history cannot capture, and even the details that we forget can wound us in ways we carry long after they occurred. The historian’s task is not just to record contemporaneous accounts, impressions, and reactions—less yet to casually reify them—but also sometimes to correct them, and to apply to the painful past an intellectual and moral rigor that the shocks of the present do not always or necessarily allow.