Review: All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan (translated by Jessica Cohen)

All the Rivers

Oh, this book. It was a slow, somewhat meditative read. It had love (and sex), but it was so much more to me than that. The story follows Liat and Hilmi, a young couple falling in love in New York. Liat is from Israel (as is the author) and is in the US on a student visa for a few months. Hilmi is Palestinian and an artist. The two randomly meet and share a love that is fierce and deep, despite the social divide that is supposed to exist between them. The novel is the story of their love, the sweet parts, the bitter parts, and everything in between.

I’ll confess that I don’t know as much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as I probably should. That doesn’t make me admire what Rabinyan’s novel has done any less, however. From the beginning, this is not a simple love story. The story is told mostly from Liat’s point of view, and, from the moment they meet, she begins searching for reasons this cannot happen between them, but it does. This isn’t Romeo and Juliet. Hilmi and Liat don’t magically set aside their differences and prejudices the moment they fall in love, and that is where a lot of the novel’s power comes from. I love that they love each other, but their differences over the politically militant situation in their homes don’t just evaporate. Their love and their connection is something they really have to work for, to fight their own prejudices and ideas to hold on to.

Similarly to God-Shaped Hole by Tifanie DiBartolo, there’s an overlying sense of tension and anticipation of tragedy that overlooks this novel. Until the end, the type of tragedy and its magnitude are unclear, and I’m not spoiling anything by saying that. As you read, you know it could simply be the tragedy of two people’s cultures and families tearing them apart, or something much more tragic and deep. Regardless, the story of Hilmi and Liat will entrance you, and make you think deeply about what divides and unites us as humans. The beautiful language used in this translation also doesn’t hurt. I highly recommend this novel, even if you think it may not be for you. For me, it is one I randomly chose at the library…and one I will likely purchase and return to so that I can savor it again.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

More Information: Goodreads, Amazon, Official Website for Dorit Rabinyan

What are your favorite contemporary books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…or your favorite contemporary  love stories?

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