Second reading here folks. I loved this book the first time I read it back in 2000 or so. The metaphors are to die for. (even if some reviewers call the writing a bit too flowery.) and the history is totally enjoyable. There’s some magical realism thrown in there, too, but of the completely loving kind – love for the original Jewish settlers of Palestine – the ones who came from the pogroms of Russia (ala Fiddler on the Roof) in the very early 20th century to plant fields and raise animals and build a communal life in tiny villages in the desert.
The Blue Mountain
by Meir Shalev
1988 – 378 pages
rating – 9
It’s basically the captivating tale of a fictional group of Russian pioneer immigrants to Palestine in the early 20th century. (very early 2nd Aliyah – 1904-5?) And it’s about the farming and socialism within that little band of brave, hard-working Russian peasant immigrants, “the founders,” to the “land of Israel.”
With all the joy and love and intelligence and creativity and sweat they could muster, these poor but idealistic people, transplants themselves, planted everything that would grow there as well as raising animals and children. And they told stories over and over, dozens of times. What could possibly be the truth of it? – A few things are known.
Sometime in the current frame of 1990-something, our narrator Baruch Shenhar, is the keeper of a cemetery where his grandfather Milchin, one of the original pioneers, is buried. It’s actually the place of grandfather’s old farm. Baruch knows a lot of stories because his grandfather and his old teacher Pinness told them to him. And Baruch shares the stories with the reader whether they be realistic or come from gossip, whether they’re obviously make-believe or folkish type magical realism.
The magical realism fits because the idealism of these folks is over-the-top heroic.
In fact the whole settlement supposedly east of Haifa is behind “The Blue Mountain” which might mean it’s fictional -trying to find it on a map somewhere would be a fool’s errand – the whole story would be different. But bringing life to this fictional area is what these fictional pioneers of the land, early immigrants from Russia, protagonists of the stories, are undertaking.
The book is actually an interwoven set of character studies, there’s no real plot. But the themes are thick and heavy. There are themes of hard work, farming, fertility, love and memory. I think those themes are the heart of the book, the soul. Think Chagall’s I Village:
I think the title comes from a fictional and symbolic mountain which separates the farmers from the cities –