Reviews

It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams

Whatever your view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something about this memoir will shake your moorings.


It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street: A Jerusalem Memoir

Publisher: Olive Branch
Author: Emma Williams
Price: $16.00
Format: Paperback
Length: 384 pages
ISBN-10: 1566567890
Publication Date: 2009-12
Amazon

When Emma Williams, her husband and their three children move from New York City to Jerusalem, they are thrown headlong into what she terms "the situation". "The situation" is ostensibly a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over land. However on the ground, Williams discovers that, "[I]t's a maelstrom, a tragedy of our times, a shameful failure of the modern world. And it looks so different from over there… that the view from New York verges on dangerous fantasy".

Reading Williams' memoir is a chance to pull ourselves out of this fantasy. Whatever your view on this conflict, something about her memoir will shake your moorings.

Williams arrives one month before the Second Intifada erupts in September 2000; she departs on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Throughout these tumultuous times, Williams chronicles the affect of "the situation" on her family. She describes their fear -- fear that a decision to go to the store could be a fateful one, fear for the whereabouts of friends and family whenever a bomb goes off, the constant effort to ameliorate the fear of family and friends overseas.

Then, there is guilt -- the guilt of knowing that you, with your foreign passport, can leave the country and pass through checkpoints with ease, when others are trapped. Of course, the Williams' must also deal with politics. Every family decision unwittingly becomes a political statement -- where she and her husband decide to live, where they send their children to school, the choice of a hospital to deliver her fourth child.

In addition to telling her own story, Williams seeks out Israelis and Palestinians with different perspectives, and she listens to them and questions and listens some more. Her book is filled with the insights of political leaders, settlers, mothers, fathers, health workers, aid workers, journalists and activists, just to name a few. From one Palestinian comes the book's title: "It is easier to reach heaven than the end of the street" -- a telling statement about the restrictions placed on Palestinians' freedom of movement.

Williams' book was originally published in the UK in 2006. This new US edition is updated with an epilogue and a foreword by Brian Urquhart, a former Undersecretary-General of the United Nations. Many reviews from 2006 highlight Williams' proportionality, even-handedness and lack of bias. I agree. She has sympathy for Israelis who fear suicide attacks and feel that their government's security policies make them less safe. She also has compassion for Palestinians who go about their lives as best they can despite checkpoints, curfews, and military crackdowns.

Williams is not without opinions, however. A doctor by training, she continually expresses outrage at how Israeli checkpoints create barriers for Palestinians seeking medical care and how hospitals and ambulances in Palestinians areas are targeted by the Israeli Defense Forces. She tells moving stories of pregnant Palestinian women who can't reach the hospital to give birth, some of whom die from complications. Although Williams' book is much more, it can be read a powerful call to action for ensuring that Palestinians have access to health care.

Oftentimes, news from this part of the world can seem repetitive -- violence, attempts at agreement, violence again. This repetitiveness can make us numb to the tragedy unfolding everyday. Williams succeeds in putting a very human face on "the situation". It is a human face that you will not easily forget.

9

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image