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About the Author
Valerie Zenatti was born in Nice, France on April Fool's Day in 1970. When she was thirteen, her family moved to Israel. Her experiences with the Israeli Defense Forces were chronicled in her first book When I Was a Soldier. She currently lives with her two children in Paris, where she is a Hebrew translator.
Read an Excerpt
A BOTTLE IN THE GAZA SEA
By VALÉRIE ZENATTI
Copyright © 2005
All right reserved.
Chapter One Jerusalem, September 9, 2003
It's a time of darkness, sadness, and horror. The fear's back again.
Mom had just told me to go to bed for the third time (because I have to get up early in the mornings) when the windows started rattling. My heart gave a great thump inside my chest; I thought it had come halfway up my throat. A second later I realized there had been an explosion really close to our house.
An explosion must mean a bomb.
My older brother, Eytan, who's a military nurse, ran straight out with his first aid kit. Dad hesitated for a moment, then followed him. Mom held me in her arms and cried; then, as usual, she did four things at once: she turned on the TV and the radio, connected to the Internet, and grabbed her cell phone. That's what I call a highly technological response.
I ran to my bedroom, confident that no one would nag me to switch off my light and that the next day I could even get to school late, or not go at all. Nobody would ask for an explanation. I would just have to say the bomb was in my neighborhood, in my street, I had nightmares all night, my blood pressure soared, I couldn't walk, I was too frightened to leave the house. And Mrs. Barzilaï would believe me, even if we had a math test.
A few minutes after the explosion we heard the ambulance sirens-such a horrible noise, ripping through the air and our eardrums. A terrible yowling like a cat with its tail caught in a door, amplified by a sound system worthy of a hard rock concert. Five, six, seven ambulances, but I didn't count them all.
I can hear Mom still on the phone, and the clear staccato voice of some woman correspondent on the radio or the TV. There will have been some deaths. There are almost always deaths. But I don't want to know how many, or who. Not today. Precisely because it happened so close to home.
I'd like to turn the silence right up, but how do you do that?
I went into the kitchen to drink a bit of vodka and lemon. Mom didn't see me. On my way I picked up the earplugs Dad uses when he goes swimming. With those plus my big pillow over my head I might have some hope of sleeping, even if I know that when I wake up tomorrow no one will tell me that everything's fine and it's all been a bad dream.
The vodka didn't go down very well. Half a glass is obviously too much for me. This morning I had a headache and my face was all swollen. "You look like Bugs Bunny," Eytan told me, ruffling my hair. My brother's the only person in the world who can mess up my hair without being walloped within a second. He knows that and makes the most of it.
He smiled at me. He didn't look like someone who'd spent the night witnessing horror, but then what do you look like when you've witnessed horror? He's twenty years old and doing military service in Gaza; I'm sure he sees terrible things there every day ... or every other day, when it's quiet. I expect he'd have to learn to not see, or at least to forget, if he wants to avoid looking old before he's twenty-five.
It's strange, I don't think I've ever written as much as I have between yesterday and today. There are some girls in my class who keep diaries and write down what happens to them every day. I've never done that-dissected my love life, or said how old and useless my parents are, or divulged my dreams. Well, I imagine that's what you put in a diary.
On my thirteenth birthday my grandmother gave me The Diary of Anne Frank, the story of the young Jewish girl in the Netherlands who spent two years of her life hiding with her family during the Second World War before being deported. She dreamed of being a writer, but more important, of freedom: to go to the cinema, to walk in a garden, to look at the trees and listen to the birds without fear of being caught and killed by the Nazis. There was another family in the hiding place with a son named Peter, and Anne fell in love with him. I've often wondered whether she really loved him or whether she didn't have any choice because he was the only boy there.
What upset me most was the end of the book where it said: Anne Frank died two months before the camp at Bergen-Belsen was liberated.
Just two months ... I read that sentence again and again, and for a long time I wished I could reach out, take Anne Frank's hand, and say, "Hang on, this hell is nearly over, it won't go on forever, just eight little weeks. Hang on and you'll be free, you'll be able to go to the cinema, to look at the trees and listen to the birds; you could even be a writer. Please, live!"
But I don't have superpowers or a time machine, and that's what's so heartbreaking when you think about it.
I still don't know why I'm writing all this. I get average grades for literature, nothing more, and I have no dreams of being a writer. What I really want is to make films, to be a director. Or perhaps a pediatrician, I haven't really chosen yet. But, since yesterday evening, I've got this incredible urge to write; it's all I can think about. As if there's a river of words bursting to come out of me to keep me alive. I feel as if I'll never be able to stop.
I haven't managed to avoid the news. My eyes see, my cars hear, there are newspapers and radios everywhere, and they keep talking about the bomb attack.
The terrorist blew himself up inside the Hillel café. They found six bodies. It's what they call an average attack, which means it will be talked about for a couple of days and then there will be a bit more in the Sunday supplements. There was a tragedy, a tragedy within the tragedy: a young woman was killed with her father. She was due to be married today. She was killed a few hours before putting on her beautiful white dress, a few hours before the photographer took the young couple to the loveliest places in Jerusalem to take pictures of the prince and princess who would have lots of children. The groom-who-never-got-married was devastated by the sight of her coffin. He wanted to put the wedding ring on his fiancée's finger but the rabbi refused, saying religious law forbade celebrating a union with a dead person.
I wonder whether religious law devotes a chapter to how to behave when you're in the depths of despair.
I close my eyes to forget the face of that girl who'll never be married. She was just twenty, barely three years older than me. What would my life be like if I knew I only had three years left? I have no idea-it's a stupid, pointless question but I still can't stop thinking about it.
When the fear comes back, like now, we all seem to forget who we are. We all become potential victims, bodies that could end up lifeless and covered in blood just because someone chose to blow themselves up right next to us. I want to know who I am, what I'm made of. What would make my death any different from any other? If I said that to my parents or friends, they'd be really shocked and would tell me gently that I needed to rest. That must be why I've decided to write: so I don't frighten the others with what's going on inside my head ... and don't let them declare me a raving lunatic.
Chapter Two Seeing Doves Fly
My name is Tal Levine. I was born in Tel Aviv on the first of July 1986, but I live here in Jerusalem. I know that everyone on the planet knows the name Jerusalem, and if there are extraterrestrials they've probably heard about it too; it's a city that creates quite a stir. But no one knows it like my father and me. My father is passionate about history and archaeology, and he's one of Israel's greatest tour guides. When a head of state visits, he's the one they call on because he brings the stones to life with his stories. He's a magician. He has limpid green eyes, and this strange gleam appears in them when he starts talking about how King David chose to put the capital of his kingdom on this rocky mountain such a long way from the sea or a river, how his son Solomon built a temple and palaces, how Nebuchadnezzar, then the Romans, destroyed the temple. He can talk for hours about Jesus, who looked over Jerusalem from the cross.
"Do you realize, Tal," he often says, "this is where all that happened and this is where everything still will happen." He explains how, much later, European crusaders fought the Muslims to reclaim Jesus' tomb. And then there were the long centuries when this Holy City fell from splendor. The Old Town, a tiny place stifled by its city walls, was all there was until a hundred years ago. "Dark little streets," my father says, "streets where a donkey could bump into a man without wondering whether he was a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim. Several thousand good, pious people watched over the sacred sites of the three religions, thinking they were the last to remember them, and that as the world moved into a modern era, people would forget that Jerusalem is the center of the universe. They were wrong. When the Jews chose to come back to the land of their ancestors to be a free people, rivalries over the city began to simmer. The Jews said they'd been here first, three thousand years earlier, that it was written in the Bible, and that, in the two thousand years when they had had no country, all their prayers had been turned toward Jerusalem. The Muslims replied that they had been there for thirteen centuries, which is not really to be sneezed at, and that their prophet Muhammad had flown to the skies from here. The Christians tried to get their word in, reminding the others that Jesus died here, and should he ever come back to life, there was a strong chance it would be in the same place so it would be a good idea to have a few of them on the spot to welcome him. But you see, Tal, instead of loving this city in the way it deserves, instead of getting along, they've fought over her for more than fifty years, the way men might once have fought for a woman, with passion, with a little more hate for their rivals every day. They don't even realize their wars are now damaging the thing they claim to love, damaging it more and more violently in one way or another."
That's how my father talks. That's what makes him a wonderful poet, a storyteller. I could walk with him for hours, traveling through time, looking at my city through eyes different from most people's. I know there are amazing cities in the world. I would love to see Paris, Venice, Beijing, and New York, hut I already know that this is where I want to live.
To live, and not to die.
I'm back on the subject now. I can't think about anything else at the moment, I can't forget the fact that the bomb was so close to home.
A few years ago I went walking by the Dead Sea with lily father and Eytan. I fell and cut myself very badly. It was a really frightening, ugly wound, but I couldn't take my eyes off the blood, off that long opening from my knee to my ankle that made me feel as if my leg were no longer my leg.
I've got exactly the same feeling now, except that I'm all in one piece. But inside my head, I'm in pieces. I keep thinking how often I go to the Hillel café, with Eytan when he's on leave, or with my friends. I keep thinking we could have been there. I delft understand how life can hinge on se little: whether or not you feel like going to the café along a certain street.
There has been an incalculable number of bomb attacks in Jerusalem in the last three years. Sometimes it's every day, or even twice a day. You can't keep up with the funerals on TV or crying for the families, there are too many of them.
People say they get used to it. Not me.
I grew up with the idea that there could be something other than blood, hate, and mutilated bodies between us and the Palestinians.
I was seven years old in 1993, but I remember the thirteenth of September really clearly. Mom and Dad didn't go to work, they bought tons of chips, little sausages, pistachio nuts, and champagne too. Their eyes sparkled and they kept the TV on the whole time but couldn't sit still in front of it.
It's very rare for the TV to be on in the daytime.
It's even rarer for my parents to buy junk food.
It's incredibly rare for them to let us, Eytan and me, stuff our faces with crap and not say anything.
And it's seriously unbelievable that they gave me, aged seven, champagne to drink.
It's probably because of all that that I remember the thirteenth of September 1993 so well. On the screen, standing in front of a palace made of icing sugar, was our prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Next to him was some guy who looked like an actor from an American soap opera. In fact it was the president of the United States, Bill Clinton. He took Yitzhak Rabin by the shoulder and led him to a weird man with a black and white checkered scarf over his head. I gathered from what the commentator was saying that this was Yasser Arafat, representing the Palestinians. The two men shook hands, and all those thousands of people in their best clothes standing on the White House lawn (it said on the screen: Live from the White House) clapped as if this were some fantastic achievement.
That was when I saw my parents cry for the first time. I was very embarrassed, and I think I was annoyed with them. There they were with these inexplicable tears in their eyes, looking like little children, and I felt like saying, "You'd better get back to being you quickly-I don't mind if you're serious, strict, or gentle, but just get back to being my parents. Parents don't cry, as far as I know. They know everything, they're very dependable and very strong, they don't just start crying ridiculously because they see two men shaking hands."
I also remember being very frightened because, if my parents were crying, that meant something awful had happened and our life was going to change. The champagne, the chips, the little sausages, and the pistachio nuts must have been brought in to celebrate our last moments together, or some other dramatic, irreversible event.
Dad looked at me.
"Come over here, Tal."
He sat me on his knee, stroked my face, and said, "People sometimes cry with happiness, sweetheart. And we're very, very happy today. What you've just seen is very important: the Palestinians and us, the Israelis, are finally going to agree about how to live in peace. There won't be any more war, ever. Maybe you and Eytan won't even have to do national service. This is the most overwhelming piece of news because we've dreamed of it for so long."
He believed in it, my father. And, as I believe everything he tells me, that at least made two of us who saw white doves flying through the skies above Jerusalem that day.
Excerpted from A BOTTLE IN THE GAZA SEA by VALÉRIE ZENATTI Copyright © 2005 by Valérie Zenatti. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After a nearby bombing that leaves Tal Levine, a girl desperate for peace in her Israel home, shellshocked and numb, Tal is desperate to reach out to a Palestinian, hoping for proof that they are not all heartless killers. So she writes a message in a bottle and tosses it into the Gaza Sea.
When Naim finds the bottle and its message, he becomes angry. He emails Tal, and slowly the two form an understanding of each other's lives.
But when tragedy strikes again, will their relationship survive?
A BOTTLE IN THE GAZA SEA is an intense, powerful, and eye-opening experience. Zenatti doesn't seem to hold back in her descriptions of the turbulence-ridden Middle East and how deep the animosity runs. But hers is also a novel of hope and understanding as two teenagers, the next generation, come together to forge an unforgettable bond.
This is a galvanizing read that will definitely make you think.
Touching As a method of self-defense against increasing Israeli-Palestinian violence, feisty 17-year-old Israeli Tal writes a note and sticks it in a bottle. She asks her brother to throw the bottle in the Gaza sea, with hopes that she’ll meet a Palestinian girl and somehow put a personality to the people she knows must be behind the fence. What she gets is 20-year-old Naim, a scathingly sarcastic, but nice-under-the-surface Palestinian man. The book is a series of emails between the two, and as their understanding of each other grows, so does their affection for one another. This was a really sweet book. It was silly, as are all teenage romances, but actually believable (if you have faith in coincidence). I was surprised while reading because I’d originally thought the author was Israeli, writing for Israeli teens—but the book is written by a French woman who lived in Israel when she was younger. The target audience is therefore teens who do not necessarily know all the background in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is something I appreciated, because I felt like I understood what they were talking about when they mentioned political and historical events. This is a quick, enjoyable read.
As a method of self-defense against increasing Israeli-Palestinian violence, feisty 17-year-old Israeli Tal writes a note and sticks it in a bottle. She asks her brother to throw the bottle in the Gaza sea, with hopes that she¿ll meet a Palestinian girl and somehow put a personality to the people she knows must be behind the fence. What she gets is 20-year-old Naim, a scathingly sarcastic, but nice-under-the-surface Palestinian man. The book is a series of emails between the two, and as their understanding of each other grows, so does their affection for one another. This was a really sweet book. It was silly, as are all teenage romances, but actually believable (if you have faith in coincidence). I was surprised while reading because I¿d originally thought the author was Israeli, writing for Israeli teens¿but the book is written by a French woman who lived in Israel when she was younger. The target audience is therefore teens who do not necessarily know all the background in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is something I appreciated, because I felt like I understood what they were talking about when they mentioned political and historical events. This is a quick, enjoyable read.
Rather (too) short YA-novel about the difference between growing up in Israel and growing up in the Gaza Strip - or more aptly, about the similarities. The two narrators initially think they have nothing in common, but because both are damaged by the strife between their peoples - although in different ways - they grow closer and become friends, even though they have never met. It's a well-written shoe-on-the-other-foot story, and although I found the characters slightly unbelievable (or perhaps just not acting like their purported ages), it was still worth a read. I especially appreciated how both sides got their "say" without condemnation - any blame is worked out between the characters in their communication, which emphasizes the story's overall message of hope.
Far removed from the conflict in the Middle East it is easy to live day by day not thinking of the dangerous situation that mothers, fathers, children and grandparents live through daily in many places on the other side of the ocean. It is easy to forget the freedoms women don't have, the childless babies and the violence. However in my drive to feel more, to know more and keep all peoples close to me. I believe education difies prejudice and so I read on.A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is a book of two hopefuls in a sea of killing, prejudice, and a tradition of violence between the Palestinians and the jews, from Jerusalem and the Gaza strip. Tal, a teen from Jerusalem wills to find peace, and longs for a glint of hope, of life from the other side. She puts a letter in a bottle and asks her brother, who is a soldier to put it in the Gaza Sea. Naim, is what comes of it, a bright Palestinian teen topped off with sarcasm. They email back and forth. Facades are broken down, lies made to truths, and through their friendship hope comes to them and those around them.I genuinely enjoyed reading A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, Zenatti did an excellent job with the witing and the content of the book. The characters are fully believable, lovable and unforgettable. I hesitate to mention that this is designed as a young adult read, and that because of that you would steer clear, feeling that maturity and wisdom would most likely be lacking. I can promise you that those assumptions are wrong. The young Tal and her Gaza friend, Naim are young in age, but it is easy to be captivated by them, as they both portray the losses of their peoples at the hands of each others people. I was involved, interested and Zenatti spoke to me. I highly recommend this book, it gives all the emotion without the descriptions of blood and guts ( but does not hide that that is everywhere). A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is a realistic hope for peace, a dream of a future life of freedom, no matter how many generations the war has already gone on for.Quotes: The two of us don't have much luck: we were born in the twentieth century- the bloodiest century in history, as Rosebush reminded us yet again yesterday.: Two world wars, the Soviet empire dominating part of the world +conflicts pretty much all over the place with increasingly sophisticated weapons= hundreds of millions of deaths. 'It's just maths,' he added with an almost sadistic smile (p. 34). 'We choose none of the things that determine out lives: not the way we look or where we're born or our parents. None of them. We just have to cope with all the things we haven't chosen and which make us who we are.' My father told me that last year, when I was having trouble with just being me (p. 132).
Hoping to learn more about the people on the other side of the water, Tal puts a letter in a bottle and has her brother throw it into the Gaza Sea. She expects to meet a girl her age whom she can exchange life stories with, but what she gets is a sarcastic 20 year old man named Naim. Naim is an angry, guarded person, but with a little persistance from Tal he is able to break free from his shell. This was a quick yet powerful read that brings the Israeli/Palestinian struggle alive for a teen audience. I recommend it for all young adult and teen readers. Alyssa Rae
I read rhis book while in a 10 hr flight, I couldn'f put it down! So sad there is no #2
I lovedthe book until i got to the last chapter then i was like RLY?! how ya gonna end their i mean come on but the book was great i read it for school awesome sauce book ppl