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Summer Reading: Multiple viewpoints tell one chilling tale
July 17th, 2008
In most novels, there is usually one protagonist, whose innermost thoughts and feelings are shared with the readers. Most of the time, readers follow one person through his or her triumphs and struggles, victories and losses.
Rarely are readers given glimpses into the inner life of more than one character. The book “Real Time” by Pnina Moed Kass (Clarion Books, hardcover, $15) is an exception. Told in first person, the novel has more than 10 protagonists, thereby allowing readers to hear the multiple voices in one common story.
The formatting of the novel is a twist between a script and a diary, with each chapter headed with the writer’s name, location and time. The characters are not simply recording events; they are talking, thinking and living through their lives.
As viewpoints alternate, events are seen from many different angles, providing an interesting perspective for the readers.
“Real Time” is set in Israel during the first intifada (1987-1993). The story opens with Thomas Wanninger, a 16-year-old from Berlin, on a plane to Israel to volunteer at Kibbutz Broshim, outside of Jerusalem.
Part of his reason for going to Israel is to volunteer in the greenhouses on the kibbutz, but he is also searching for answers to questions he has about his grandfather, a Nazi officer in World War II.
At the same time, Vera Brodsky is getting ready to pick up Thomas from the airport. An Odessa native, Vera has lived on the kibbutz for three years. Still healing after her boyfriend’s suicide and her father’s abandonment, she is becoming interested in rediscovering her Jewish heritage.
Readers are then introduced to Baruch Ben Tov, a Holocaust survivor and head of the kibbutz greenhouses. Nervous about meeting a German boy, he is anxious about what Thomas will think when he sees the numbers tattooed on his arm.
The viewpoint then shifts to Sameh Laham, a Palestinian who is illegally employed at a diner in Israel; then to his friend, Omar Joulani, an Islamic extremist being interrogated by Israeli police.
The lives of these characters, as well as others, intertwine in a bus bombing on a highway outside Jerusalem. Thomas and Vera are critically injured in the attack. Sameh is hurt and put under police guard in the hospital.
The recovery process is painful for the characters and those who are close to them. After such a devastating tragedy, is it possible for those affected to rebuild their lives? Or will they always bear the physical and emotional scars?
Some light is shed on those questions through the continuing narratives of the hospitalized characters, though they lay unresponsive and barely conscious.
Despite the grim nature of the story, I found the book to be thoroughly enjoyable. Even though there are many difficult moments in the book, such as when Thomas slips into a coma or when Vera looks in the mirror and is horrified by what she sees, there are heart-warming passages as well.
The characters were each developed and presented beautifully. Each with their own quirks and unique lives, the individuals seemed so authentic that I felt as if I had known them before cracking open the book.
I believe that we all can learn a lesson from this story. Most of the book chronicles the aftermath of one event. Countless people were affected by the act of one person, and many lives were changed forever.
“Real Time” shows us the enormous power each of us has in our actions. By making one choice, we may cause a chain reaction that will affect numerous others, some of whom we may not even know. Bottom line: choose your actions wisely.
Moed Kass skillfully weaves each of the characters’ stories into an insightful, gripping tale that is sure to send chills down your spine.
Meet Talia Lakritz, The Chronicle's summer intern.