A Bottle in the Gaza Sea – Valerie Zenatti

Gazaman: Is that really you there, Tal? Is that you online?

Bakbouk: Yes, it’s me

Gazaman: Are you okay?

Bakbouk: I don’t know, and you?

Gazaman: I don’t know either

*****

Tal Levine is just like any ordinary teenage girl. She listens to pop music, hates her boring history teacher, spends late nights gossiping with her best friend Efrat, and likes going out dancing in the city with her boyfriend, Ori.

Tal is also very different from an ordinary teenage girl, because her city is Jerusalem, and violence has been a fact of life in Jerusalem since before she was born.

When an explosive goes off in the coffee shop down the street from her house, Tal begins to write. In her journal, she writes all her sadness, fear, and confusion about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, trying desperately to understand why and how such hate can exist between people. As the news channels report retaliation after retaliation, Tal decides to put all her thoughts and feelings into a bottle, and asks her older brother Eytan (a military nurse serving in the Gaza Strip) to throw it into the sea.

She never expects anyone to pick it up, let alone respond.

Enter Gazaman, the snarky internet persona of a Palestinian boy in Gaza who finds her letter. Initially reluctant to share anything about himself, he instead mocks her idealism in trying to forge a connection across such seemingly insurmountable differences. And yet, as bombs continue to fall on both sides of the border the divides them, he finds himself slowly opening up to her. The online correspondence that follows, equally full of anger, despair, joy, and hope, challenges both characters’ preconceptions about the ‘enemy’ and profoundly alters the way they see their troubled homeland.

*****

The second novel from award-winning YA author Valérie Zenatti (in a marvelous translation by Adriana Hunter), A Bottle in the Gaza Sea has been hailed by its publisher as “a modern-day Romeo-and-Juliet tale for the third millennium”—ideal for older adolescents. As Tal and Gazaman’s relationship unfolds over email and instant messaging, they learn not only about each other as people but also about their own prejudices, expectations, and blind spots when it comes to the conflict that shapes their lives. Zenatti’s novel, equal parts exploration of personal and national trauma and millennial love story, provides a balanced and human glimpse into an ages-old struggle through the lives of two young people, who, despite the forces that seek to divide them, manage to find more common ground than they ever expected and form a relationship that they never saw coming.

While occasionally difficult to read in its brutal and honest depictions of sectarian/state violence and physical and emotional trauma, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea presents an ultimately hopeful tale of human connection, forged against all odds.

By: Jamie Meader

Zenatti, Valerie. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. Translated by Adriana Hunter, Bloomsbury, 2008.

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