Book Review: Promised Land by Martin Fletcher


Promised Land is the sweeping saga of two brothers and the woman they love, a devastating love triangle set against the tumultuous founding of Israel.

The story begins when fourteen-year-old Peter is sent west to America to escape the growing horror of Nazi Germany. But his younger brother Arie and their entire family are sent east to the death camps. Only Arie survives.

The brothers reunite in the nascent Jewish state, where Arie becomes a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel while Peter becomes a top Mossad agent heading some of Israel’s most vital espionage operations. One brother builds Israel, the other protects it.

But they also fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, a lonely Jewish refugee from Cairo. And over the next two decades, as their new homeland faces extraordinary obstacles that could destroy it, the brothers’ intrigues and jealousies threaten to tear their new lives apart.

Promised Land is at once the gripping tale of a struggling family and an epic about a struggling nation.

Promised Land is an ambitious novel about family and love, set in the aftermath of the Holocaust and tracking two brothers’ lives during the early years following Israel’s independence.

As the book opens, Peter and Arie are young boys living with their family in Germany as war looms. Their parents are able to send Peter to America, but the rest of the family can’t avoid the Nazi terror, ultimately being sent to concentration camps.

Peter spends his teens with a kind American family before fighting in WWII, then ultimately moving to the new state of Israel and joining its intelligence service. Arie survives Auschwitz, but the rest of the family perishes, and Arie too ends up in Israel, where the brothers are reunited. A meeting with an Egyptian Jewish refugee, Tamara, changes both brothers’ lives. Peter and Tamara have an instant connection and a moment of passion, but Peter is sent on a mission with no communication possible for months. Meanwhile, Arie woos Tamara, and by the time Peter returns home, Arie and Tamara are married and expecting a child.

Promised Land takes place over a roughly 20-year period, from Israel’s birth in 1948 through the Six Day War in 1967. As the brothers and their families build their lives, we see the country also build and develop. Peter rises in the ranks of the Mossad, known for his operational expertise and sense of honor, while Arie becomes an astute businessman, always ahead of the curve in seeing opportunities for making money and profiting from the growth of the nation. Peter marries a lovely woman, a fellow agent, and has a good life with her; Arie and Tamara, while becoming fabulously wealthy, have a rocky marriage due to Arie’s excesses and infidelities.

Eventually, the love triangle between Peter, Arie, and Tamara explodes, which isn’t surprising… the only surprising element is how long it takes to reach that point.

In terms of my reaction to the book, I was hooked from start to finish, but at the same, I felt that the emotional set-up of the relationships in the story was somewhat flimsy and not well-developed. Arie is a terrible husband, no two ways about it, and just isn’t a particularly good guy. Why Tamara chose to stay with him really makes no sense, and neither does his reaction to learning the truth about Tamara and Peter, other than demonstrating Arie’s possessiveness and selfishness.

Peter really is a good person, a devoted family man and brother, and he acts in Arie’s best interest even when Arie is engaging in shady, criminal behavior. He is a good loving husband to his first wife, and (spoiler alert) after her untimely death, denies  his love for  Tamara well past the point when there was a reason for either of them to think that her marriage was worth saving.

What this book does very well, and what makes it a deeper read than a typical love triangle story, is the positioning of these characters at such a distinct and eventful moment in history.  The author, a former news correspondent, uses his well-researched knowledge of the events of the time to paint a portrait of a people’s psychology.

We come to understand the underlying needs, fears, and guilt of a Holocaust survivor. While despising much of Arie’s actions, I could also sympathize with his pain and understand why he acts the way he acts and what drives him to pursue wealth, power, and admiration.

We also learn about the psychology of the early Israelis, coming from the horrors of genocide, knowing that their new homeland may not be a safe place, and wanting desperately to find the security so long denied. The author does not sugarcoat the more unpleasant aspects of Israel’s creation, but does show a context and depth of understanding that’s often missing in today’s narratives.

At the same time, as the characters live through Israel’s cycles of war, we get a more in-depth look at the political machinations behind the scenes, thanks to Peter’s role in the intelligence service. It’s fascinating to read about the hidden reasons for Israel’s actions, the lingering impact of Nazi scientists on Middle Eastern politics, and the ways in which Cold War politics play into Israel’s strategies.

Overall, I found myself immersed in the story, fascinated both by the historical setting and the characters’ lives. Yes, I found the characterizations a little formulaic (good brother, bad brother, exotic love interest), but the story progresses in a way that kept me engaged and made me care about these people and their lives.

I did find the ending somewhat abrupt. The story seems to just end. I think even one more chapter, perhaps an epilogue, might have helped to create a better sense of completion and satisfaction.**

**While doing a final proofread of this review, I popped over to Martin Fletcher’s author page in Goodreads and discovered that this book is the first in a trilogy! I guess that explains why it ends when and how it does, and why I was left feeling that there was more of the story to be told.

Despite a few drawbacks that got in my way here and there, I’m glad to have read Promised Land. For anyone interested in Israel’s early years, this is a fresh take on the history of the time, and the characters in the story are memorable and relatable – you won’t soon forget them or their struggles.


The details:

Title: Promised Land
Author: Martin Fletcher
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication date: September 4, 2018
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley








I’m back! Where I went, what I did, and what I read

Hi all! Happy 4th of July!

After three weeks away, I arrived home safe and sound early yesterday morning, and promptly fell into bed to sleep myself back to some degree of being human again. (Only partially successful, but hey, it’s only been one day.)

So what have I been up to while being absent from my blogging life? Quite the whirlwind, in fact.

First, I started off with five days in New York. We stayed at a hotel right at Times Square — and no, that’s not a mistake I’m likely to repeat. The hotel was fine, but the crowds were awful. No need to be quite that touristy! The absolute highlight was seeing the oh-so-glorious Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Side note: Going to see the HP production is an adventure two years in the making! Two years ago, when tickets were first released for the London production, I jumped through about a million hoops to get tickets for my daughter and me. We had plans for a trip to London last June… and then complications with my elderly father arose, forcing me to cancel my part of the trip. (Darling daughter and her boyfriend enjoyed the show tremendously, lucky them.) When the Broadway ticketing process opened, I was absolutely determined to make it happen… and it did!

For those not familiar with the HP production, it’s a two-part show, which we saw on two consecutive nights. Really, it’s the equivalent of seeing two full-length Broadway shows. Each part ran about 2 hours, 40 minutes, with intermissions. Drink lots of coffee before you go!

What can I say about the show itself? It’s magnificent. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, chances are you’ve read the book already. I had — but even knowing the plot basics, I wasn’t prepared for the spectacle and wonder of the live show. The staging, the lighting, the effects, and above all, the acting, make this a story that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. We were lucky enough to see the original London cast in the Broadway production… and, no surprise, they were simply amazing. One thing I didn’t get from reading the book is just how awesome the character of Scorpius Malfoy is — he really stole the show (and my heart.)

Around the theater, staff gives out buttons saying #keepthesecrets, so I suppose I’m duty-bound not to reveal too much! All I can say is that the show is magical and delightful, and well worth every moment.

Okay, that’s the Harry Potter stuff! Also in New York, my family and I went to see The Band’s Visit, which is a beautiful musical, full of humor and emotion, tightly woven together into a 90-minute production that’s human and moving and has truly lovely music. If you have the chance, definitely check it out! And what’s a trip to New York without a visit to the top of the Empire State Building and an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Add in some great deli, a walk through Central Park, and oodles of people-watching, and who could ask for more?

From there, I headed to Connecticut for a few days of family time, visiting my dad, spending time with other relatives, and basically just chilling out before stage 3 of the vacation, which was…

A two-week trip to Israel!

My husband was born and raised in Israel, and we try to get back to see his family every few years. Somehow, we let more time than usual go by, so this was our first trip in four years! A big chunk of the time there was spent in Tel Aviv, where the family is. Days of hitting the beach, nights of eating at different relatives’ homes. Food. So much food. So much hummus. So much yum.

Because we were traveling with our teen son, I wanted to make sure to include some travel and culture while we were there (although the boy probably would have been happy with nothing but beach, all day, every day.) So we spent two days in Jerusalem, including solemn places (Har Hertzl, Israel’s military cemetary, and Yad Vashem, the incredibly powerful Holocaust museum), the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, dinner in the newer parts of the city, and a spectacular light show at night within the walls of the Old City. If we’d had more time, we could have spent days and days exploring, but at least we have something to look forward to on the next trip!

Onward we went, heading into the desert for a night at the Dead Sea, where we did our requisite floating! From there, we ventured to Masada — by cable car, no climbing for me in the incredible heat. Masada is always fascinating, and the views are amazing.

One final road trip before heading home — Rosh HaNikra, at the northern tip of Israel along the Mediterranean, where we took cable cars down to the sea grottoes — one of my all-time favorite places! I try to get there on every trip to Israel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And now… ta da! We’re back home in SF, where the skies are cool and cloudy, and I have mountains of laundry, mail, and bills to tackle. The joys of post-vacation tasks!

Okay, as for the “what I read” part — here’s a peek at the reading that kept me busy during my quiet moments (amazingly, there were actually a few) during the last few weeks:

I’ll be doing some mini-review posts to talk more about what I read, once I finally catch my breath and finish unpacking and figure out what time zone I’m in!

It’s great to be home! I may be a bit slow to get back into my blogging groove, but I’m excited to be here and look forward to catching up with everyone!