Jul 11, 2005

When I Was a Soldier: a memoir, Valerie Zenatti

soldier Find this book in the Hawley Library

First, a confession: I don’t know anything about history starting immediately following World War II. Especially international history. It seems all my history classes never managed to get past WWII, thus never learning about Vietnam, the Korean War, etc. It also means I never officially learned anything about the establishment of Israel and the who what why and where of why everyone in the Middle East hates us and why people are willing to blow themselves up over the whole thing.

This used to not matter to me. But now I care a great deal about why people blow themselves up and how that affects our lives – because it does, and it directly relates to why terrorists hate us so much.

So when I read a little review of this book I went out of my way to find it. This is the non-fiction account of Valerie Zenatti’s two years of mandatory service in the Israeli army, written from her teen perspective, making is very readable and clear and understandable. And enjoyable!

In Israel, everyone, both girls and boys, are required to serve in the military starting at age 18. Girls serve two years, boys serve three. Valerie not only shares the nitty gritty details of what this is like--to know your whole life you are going to serve in the potentially deadly military when you are still very young, and the details of her military service—but also what it is like to live in the country of Isreal, and how many people have such mixed feelings about the whole thing. Valerie is able to convey the many sides of the confusing issues for Israel and Palestine, without being confusing. I know it’s not a history book (which is why I liked it so much), so that the views are not unbiased, and that it is very partial and really only a starting point of understanding that conflict. But I definitely learned a lot.

It’s a fairly short book, and also in it Valerie is also typical teenager with friends and loves and complicated and simple relationships, just wanting to have some fun, just trying to figure out her place in the world. She is smart and witty, and has written a good book that spoke to me – not over my head, but not speaking down to me, either.