Book Review | ‘Promised Land’ an Exploration of Early Israel


Promised Land: A Novel of Israel

Martin Fletcher

Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press

$28.99, hardcover

As the yearlong celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday continues, a new book looks at the country’s beginnings and the Jewish pioneers who built it from the ground up.

Part love triangle, part war story, Promised Land: A Novel of Israel by Martin Fletcher spans across the decades from Israel’s independence to 1967, and all the wars and battles to survive in between.

While true historical figures play roles as characters — from David Ben-Gurion to Ariel Sharon — the story focuses on a fictional family whose jobs and backgrounds are grounded in reality.

At the center are two brothers, Peter and Arie, whose family perished in the Holocaust. Peter was sent from their home in Nazi Germany to America for safety when he was 14. The rest of his family is sent to the camps, and only Arie survives. The two later reunite in Israel, where Peter works for the early incarnation of Mossad and becomes a top agent, and Arie becomes a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel.

While his business deals are shaky, Arie embodies the optimism of Israelis seeking to build their new home and his enthusiasm — whatever the results — is often infectious.

The two brothers, however, in a plotline that will be hit or miss for some, both fall in love with the same woman: Tamara, an Egyptian refugee who comes to Israel with her family when their homeland becomes unsafe for them as Jews.

Sometimes this plot works, as Fletcher makes Tamara’s relationship with both brothers feel mostly believable and Tamara must choose which brother she wants to be with, but even there her agency is pretty restricted given her circumstances. Other times, it’s a tiresome trope that only serves to create tension between the brothers as this division lasts throughout the two decades the book spans, across other marriages and growing families.

The wars and intelligence plotlines of the book are thrilling. It’s fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at Mossad operations through Peter and the real figures he works with, like Rafi Eitan, the agent who led the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann, and how the intelligence agency protects the land in its early days (and today).

Divided into two parts, the book covers multiple wars and the details of the battles are both heart-wrenching and exciting as Fletcher balances the celebratory victories with the price soldiers and their families pay to win them. Arie, in particular, is constantly in the throes of battles, from battling his own past to the wars in which he fights for Israel’s security as he fights harder to build the country’s future.

Where the war scenes and intelligence settings are enthralling, the romantic scenes are a little awkward. Maybe I’m being a prude, but I found myself cringing at some of the language Fletcher used during the scenes in which characters made love or descriptions of some of the characters’ bodies, particularly the women.

Though there are plenty of strong women. Diana is also a Mossad agent and a frequent collaborator with Peter, and excellent at her job. Her personality comes across as headstrong as well as compassionate and she is easily a favorite character. Tamara’s mother, Rachel, balances her maternal duties while dealing with the outspoken men in her family and maintaining her own opinions.

Tamara, though, as a main character, could have used a little more dimension. She does find a career in law and becomes a stronger version of her earlier self, but it’s hardly the focus of her identity, which is a mother, a wife (to whom you’ll have to read to find out) and mostly the object of the attention of the men around her. There is often more attention placed on her beauty than her ambitions, whatever they may be — and like any person, sometimes she isn’t sure.

But in all, for those seeking a lesson in history and perseverance, the book provides a gripping look at the sacrifices so many made to build up the country whose birthday we’re celebrating.

And a genuinely surprising ending will leave readers with a smile, and maybe a few tears.


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