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City of Oranges (thoughts)

February 21, 2009

World Citizen Challenge ButtonThe Israeli-Palestinian issue is one that gets a lot of people up in arms really quickly. So I just want to say at the outset that any ridiculous political comments will be deleted; that’s not what my blog is for. I consider myself to be in the middle on the topic; I can see the points of view of both sides and I don’t think either can claim perfect innocence/victimization. I think extreme labels are thrown around too often and just obscure the real issues behind nationalist rhetoric. And I think we can all agree that the situation is tragic for everyone involved.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to review Adam LeBor’s City of Oranges, my first read for the World Citizen Challenge (and it falls in the History category). I took a Politics of the Middle East class in college, so I had a general knowledge base of the conflict, but it’s been a few years so the facts definitely weren’t fresh in my mind! LeBor is a journalist, and in City of Oranges he looks at the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the 1920s to present-day through the lens of Jaffa. Jaffa used to be Palestine’s second leading city, and is now part of Tel Aviv; it’s more commerce-oriented than the religious Jerusalem, which I think is part of why LeBor used it. More specifically, he tells the story of six leading Jaffa families, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Arab. And I think he did it in a neutral way; sometimes the bias seems more pro-Israel, sometimes more pro-Palestine, but in the end it evens out.

LeBor is at his strongest when he’s weaving historical events with personal stories. For example, when he arrives at the war that led to Israel’s creation, he first spends a chapter looking at the experiences of various individuals. But then he draws out into the bigger picture, giving the reader the historical context of the politics and maneuvering involved in David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of Israel. And he does that for each of the key events since the 1920s; from the migration of Jews to Palestine to the first intifada and every other important issue, I got a sense of each event’s impact at both the human level and the state level. LeBor has a knack for making the reader sympathise with the various people in the book, that I think is very helpful for someone learning about the conflict. He humanises all sides, which is a necessary precursor to any kind of peace.

The book also includes extras that are helpful in understanding the conflict; a few maps, a ‘dramatis personae’ list, and a chronology. There are pictures scattered throughout of various people discussed. And of course, it has all the accoutrements of solid nonfiction; endnotes, a bibliography, and an extensive index.

I think this would be a great place to start for anyone who wants to know more about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a good choice for people looking for an on-the-ground account. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to keep track of who belongs to what family (that’s why there’s that list in the beginning of the book!), but LeBor’s writing style is clear and vivid. This is definitely page-turning nonfiction, packed with new knowledge but accessible to any intelligent layperson. I highly recommend it, and I’ll be trying out more LeBor in the future. (And you can check out in-print reviews on LeBor’s website. Also, another World Citizen participant, Gavin reviewed this one last month.)

I was originally going to add my ‘notable passages,’ but there were so many things I learned and had marked that I’m worried about violating copyright (the wordcount of all the passages I typed out comes to 3,740). Suffice it say, I learned a lot!

19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2009 5:31 am

    This sounds really interesting, my political knowledge is so poor I should really read a book like this. Great review as usual ;D

  2. February 21, 2009 6:50 am

    This sounds like a book I should read too.

  3. February 21, 2009 7:32 am

    I’m adding this to my possible reads for this challenge. I’m still trucking along with America and the Age of Genocide but haven’t decided what I will read next. This sounds interesting and I always enjoy learning something new so I might just give it a try.

  4. February 21, 2009 8:38 am

    Terrific review. I never feel like I have a complete understanding, especially in an historical sense, of what’s going on over there when I hear about it in the news. This sounds like a must read.

  5. February 21, 2009 9:07 am

    Definitely going on my TBR.. thanks, Eva!

  6. February 21, 2009 3:26 pm

    I am definitely a bit woolly on this subject, so it souds like good place to start!

  7. February 21, 2009 5:30 pm

    I think I need to read this! It’s actually on my 12-year-old son’s reading list for school this year, too. Sounds fascinating :)

  8. nightreader permalink
    February 21, 2009 11:59 pm

    Great review! You know, if you’re interested, one of my campus journals did a great interview with LeBor last year. It’s on their website here: Mostly, he’s discussing his other book, Complicity With Evil, but he does also speak about the Middle East conflict as well.

    Also, I thought I’d tell you — I’ve been a silent reader of your blog for a little while. I’ve recently started up a blog of my own, where I intend to also write book reviews, though not exclusively. I also plan to blog about book-world news. I’ve added you to my blogroll list of favorite bloggers — if you get a chance, please check it out!

  9. February 22, 2009 6:22 am

    Love how you started this post out…so true about all of us and about all situations around the world. There is always two sides to every story. Excellent review of a book that sounds like would be a solid read of the conflict. Thanks!!!

  10. February 22, 2009 2:55 pm

    Katrina, thanks! You’ll definitely know a lot about Israel and Palestine by the end of this one. :)

    BermudaOnion, I hope you enjoy it if you get to it!

    Samantha, Genocide took me forever to read, because I could only handle so much depression at a time.

    Priscilla, thank you! I feel much better informed when I read the news. :)

    Claire, great!

    Jo, I hope you enjoy it!

    Gentle Reader, really-a 12-year-old reading list?! I wish I had gone to a school that cool! lol

    NightReader, thanks for stopping by and for the links!

    Staci, thanks so much. I was a little nervous random people might stumble across the review and go on a rampage or something. ;)

  11. February 22, 2009 4:31 pm

    This is on my to-read list for the World Citizen challenge, but I haven’t been able to find a copy! Great review, though. I’m definitely looking forward to reading it.

    I’m currently reading Brooks’ ‘Nine Parts of Desire’, and I find it hard to imagine that the same person wrote such dreadful works of fiction..

  12. February 22, 2009 7:51 pm

    I am quite interested in Israel-Palestinian issues. A decade ago (wow, was it that long?!) I spent (just) two months living in Israel-Palestine, and I grew to love all the people I met of every religion and background. My life has taken me other directions so it has been many years since I’ve read a book about the issues. This sounds like a great history of the conflict.

    As for politics: I am so torn as to who’s “right” and who’s “wrong”, I’d have no idea *how* to be deeply opinionated about the conflict, one way or the other. I’d love to learn more details about both/all sides.

  13. February 23, 2009 4:30 am

    I just knew you’d steer me right on this one! It sounds absolutely wonderful, and exactly the kind of book that I was looking for when I asked you. I actually looked for this one at the bookstore last week after your recommendation, but they didn’t have it. (Someone was sweet enough to look it up for me though and found it’s one they usually have on the shelves, so I’ll pick it up next time. Hopefully.)

  14. February 24, 2009 9:11 pm

    Tuesday, I hope you manage to get ahold of a copy. Can’t wait to see your review of Nine Parts of Desire! Sounds like it’ll be better than expected. :)

    Rebecca, wow-what a neat experience! I think you’d enjoy this book. I know a lot of people who have very strong opinions on the conflict, but I think I’m too much of a big-picture girl to ever fall into that. :)

    Debi, yay! I hope you get it next time! :)

  15. April 24, 2009 11:00 am

    I read this book because of your and Gavin’s reviews! I can’t recommend it as whole-heartedly as you, though. It was very interesting but I felt that the balance between personal stories and general history was skewed too much towards general history. I also thought he had a bias toward the Arabs, although perhaps I have my own biases that made me interpret it that way. (In general, however, I do not have strong feelings that one side is “right” and the other is “wrong”; thinking that way is a good recipe for continued conflict). I agree that humanizing things is an important precursor to peace. Anyway, here’s my review.


  1. Support Your Library Challenge Wrap Up « A Striped Armchair
  2. City of Oranges by Adam LeBor « Page247
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