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Manoa - Winter 2008

  • Issue Number: Volume 20 Number 2
  • Published Date: Winter 2008
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

Enduring War: Stories of What We've Learned is an edifying volume that is not exactly lacking in timeliness: Have war stories ever been irrelevant? But this is not a volume to be read with self-righteousness; the lessons from world conflict are never easy to swallow. As Manoa reveals, war always seems to exist on the periphery of our consciousness, something that happened "over there" or "back then." The photographic images of Darfur refugees may not be graphic or shocking, but they do capture the feeling and pain that can easily get lost in the drone of the media. In his introduction, Editor Frank Stewart quotes the novelist Carlos Fuentes: "Literature makes real what history forgot." The task of literature, then, is to uncover the truth that the makers of history (and war) will find unpleasant.

The diverse fiction selection includes the meta-narrative, "The Story that Got Away," by Shahaduz Zaman. Ostensibly about the writer's difficulty writing the tale of a glorious warrior in Bangladesh's war of independence, the story reveals the shades of gray in warfare, even when couched in noble goals. "Heartless Willy," by Leo Litwak, is the story of a Jewish boy from an assimilated Dutch family who sees through Hitler's relocation tactics but is indifferent to the plight of refugees from the East. When an Orthodox family from Poland takes refuge in his Amsterdam home, he is presented the chance to learn compassion and take a stand. On a personal and a historical level, the outcome is nevertheless harrowing.

More controversial is David Shulman's "On Being Unfree," a non-fiction account of tensions in Palestine. Through nonviolent, direct action, Shulman and his group, Ta'ayush ("Arab-Jewish Partnership"), protest against Israeli encroachments on the West Bank – defending Palestinian shepherds against mob violence, dismantling roadblocks that soldiers will easily rebuild – often, he admits, with no hope of affecting change. "You can always look the other way; you can easily rationalize doing nothing, or even doing something utterly wrong," he writes. "And yet all of us long to be free. As for me, I will protest what Israel is doing to these innocent people even if no one hears and no one cares." Absent is the view, commonly presented in the US media, that animosity goes in the other direction as well, and that Israelis have legitimate reason to fear for their lives. Rather than respond directly to that view, Shulman stays true to empirical instinct and implies that militarism and division are the problem and not the solution. It's a conflict, like all of those scrutinized in Manoa, without easy answers – and therein lies the burden for all of us.

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Review Posted on April 17, 2009

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