Part love triangle, part war story, “Promised Land: A Novel of Israel” by Martin Fletcher spans the decades from Israel’s independence to 1967. While true historical figures — from David Ben-Gurion to Ariel Sharon — serve as characters, the story focuses primarily on a fictional family.
At the center are two brothers, Peter and Arie. At 14, Peter was sent from the family home in Nazi Germany to America. 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 Arie is a wealthy businessman.
While his business deals are shaky, Arie embodies the optimism of Israelis seeking to build their new home. Trouble comes when the brothers fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, an Egyptian refugee.
Sometimes the plotline works, as her relationships with both brothers feel mostly believable. Other times, it’s a tiresome trope that only serves to create decades-long tension between the brothers.
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.
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 conflict, from battling his own past to the wars in which he fights for Israel’s security.
Where the war scenes and intelligence settings are enthralling, the romantic scenes are awkward. Some of the language Fletcher uses during loves scenes or in descriptions of female bodies is cringeworthy.
There are plenty of strong women in the book, though. Diana is a Mossad agent and a frequent collaborator with Peter. Headstron and compassionate, she is easily a favorite character. Tamara’s mother, Rachel, balances her maternal duties while dealing with the outspoken men in her family.
But Tamara 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 mostly the object of male attention. There is more emphasis placed on her beauty than on her ambitions.
For those seeking a lesson in history and perseverance, the book provides a gripping look at the sacrifices so many made to build modern-day Israel.
And a genuinely surprising ending will leave readers with a smile, and maybe a few tears. JN
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.