Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant

book coverWherever You Go by Joan Leegant
Published by W.W. Norton & Company
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

Yona Stern has traveled from New York to Israel to make amends with her estranged sister, a stoic ideologue and mother of five who has dedicated herself to the radical West Bank settlement cause. Yona’s personal life resembles nothing of her sister’s, but it isn’t politics that drove the two apart.

Now a respected Jerusalem Talmud teacher, Mark Greenglass was once a drug dealer saved by an eleventh-hour turn to Orthodox Judaism. But for reasons he can’t understand, he’s lost his once fervent religious passion. Is he through with God? Is God through with him?

Enter Aaron Blinder, a year-abroad dropout with a history of failure whose famous father endlessly—some say obsessively—mines the Holocaust for his best-selling, melodramatic novels. Desperate for approval, Aaron finds a home on the violent fringe of Israeli society, with unforeseen and devastating consequences.

In a sweeping, beautifully written story, Joan Leegant, winner of the PEN New England Book Award and the Edward Lewis Wallant Award, and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, weaves together three lives caught in the grip of a volatile and demanding faith. Emotionally wrenching and unmistakably timely, Wherever You Go shines a light on one of the most disturbing elements in Israeli society: Jewish extremist groups and their threat to the modern, democratic state. This is a stunningly prescient novel.

Wherever You Go is a beautifully written novel about a subject with which I’m not super familiar, that of Jewish extremism. On the surface, the three main characters have little in common (and do not even know each other), but as the story progresses it is clear they each have some ties to Jewish extremist groups in Israel. And by the end, Leegant brings their stories together in a stunning way, showing the reader just how intricate connections between people can be, and illustrating that even the most seemingly random act can have earth-shattering consequences.

While the writing in this novel is gorgeous and the story is interesting and unique, I have to admit that I had trouble connecting with any of the characters, which really made it difficult for me to enjoy the book as I was hoping to. Don’t get me wrong, I was drawn to the story and very intrigued by these Jewish extremist groups, but the bottom line is that I wasn’t pulled in by the characters as much as I could have been. And it’s incredibly difficult for me to get to that LOVE point in a book if I can’t latch onto at least one of the characters. So, that was too bad.

The difficult thing for me about Wherever You Go is that while there are a lot of great things about the book – such as the interesting subject matter, excellent writing, and seamless way Leegant blends three very different characters’ stories together – overall I thought it was just okay. I had difficulty connecting with the characters, which seriously hampered my enjoyment of the book. But as I said, it is truly written in a gorgeous way and there’s a lot to like about this one. Just wasn’t, overall, my cup of tea.

12 thoughts on “Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant”

  1. I liked this one, and I think I identified with the female protagonist a little bit. The difficulties that she had with her sister really hit home with me. I also really loved the writing, and loved the way that Leegant spun her words into magnificent scenes. I can see how this one wouldn’t work with everyone though, and it was interesting to get the info on the Radical Judaism. I really loved your review on this one, as it showed me a different side of the book that I hadn’t examined.

    1. Thanks Heather! I remember you reviewing it and I couldn’t recall if you liked it or not. Sounds like it worked much better for you than for me. But I definitely agree about the writing.

  2. I will be honest, the synopsis doesn’t call out to me. Now, that doesn’t always mean anything! Cutting for Stone didn’t call out to me, and neither did American Dervish, or a few others, and I loved them. But I would probably have to have some brute force exerted for me to read this I think.

  3. When I accepted a copy of this one a while ago, I myself wasn’t very familiar with the topic either. I learned a lot and ended up loving this one. I’m sorry that you didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters because to me without that the reading experience can be flat.

  4. I started reading this and never finished it… I always planned on getting back to it but haven’t had a strong enough draw to it I guess.

  5. Eh, it happens! I haven’t read much about modern Israel, just because I keep intending to learn all about its history before I plunge into any fiction set there. And so far I haven’t done the history thing. One of these days I swear. :p

  6. I felt very much the same way, like this was a book I should have liked much better and would have liked much better if I had just cared more.

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