- Title: What If / Yoav Avni (Original Hebrew הרצל אמר )
- Author: Yoav Avni
- Published: 2011
- Page Number: 381
- Format: Paperback
*originally In Hebrew
I found this book in a sci-fi and fantasy convention called Icon which was held in April of 2013. I was hesitant about reviewing it since I do not know if it was translated, but more importantly because it deals with a historical occurrence that is not widely known.
In order to properly review this I must explain what part of history this book takes an “alternative twist” on.
Joseph Chamberlain to Theodore Herzl’s Zionist group – a Jewish state on 5,000
square miles of the Mau Plateau in what is today Kenya and Uganda. The offer was a
response to pogroms against the Jews in Russia, and it was hoped the area could be a
refuge from persecution for the Jewish people. The idea was brought to the Zionist
Congress at its sixth meeting in 1903 in Basel and there, a fierce debate ensued. In the
end, the offer was rejected and in 1948 the state of Israel was established in its current
position. But, what if…
(taken from Book Synopsis by Yoav Avni)
The story of the Uganda Proposal is part of the tenth grade History curriculum in Israel and so every sixteen year old knows the idea behind this book. In fact, that’s what made me want to read this book. While learning about the subject in class we all speculated on how our society would look were the Zionists to accept that offer. When I discovered someone had written JUST THAT, I immediately knew I had to read it. I think this was the quickest purchase I ever made in my entire life. Less than 30 seconds passed between the time I located the book and the time it was legally mine.
The book tells the story of two men who go on their “after the army” trip to Palestine in a world where the Jewish country resides in Uganda. One of the men, Kfir, is hesitant about everything he does. He feels lost without the army’s guidance and without the defined lifestyle and daily schedule he had while doing his mandatory army service. He does not make bold, risky decisions and spends a lot of time wondering about “what could’ve been.” He is also very affected by his parents’ divorce when he was a teenager. Kfir’s best friend Ari is the exact opposite. He insists Kfir should try “living the middle” like he does – ignoring the future and the past on just focusing on whatever is going on now.
Kfir and Ari travel to Palestine for a guided tour and a visit to Jerusalem to promote Ari’s family’s candy company which has just produced King David shaped Pez toys with milk and honey flavored Pez candies – a reference to the phrase in the Bible which calls Israel the “land of milk and honey.”
The book describes the travels of the two, the people they meet and the troubles they come across. Palestine is ruled by Muslim law and at one point, following a case of adultery, the two become WANTED by the police and go on the run. They wind up meeting fellow Jews who only end up leading them into more trouble.
I cannot really say much without spoiling the plot so I’ll proceed to talking about what I thought of the book. First off, the idea is a brilliant one. There are a number of books that deals with the question of what were to happen to the Jews had they winded up elsewhere. The book is written very nicely and the characters are likeable. I have to admit Ari got on my nerves after a bit, but Kfir had my love and sympathy. I think this book is a great read for all Israelis since the subject is relevant to them and because they would have learned about this in school.
I do have two issues with the book. The first is that there were a few phrases that were repeated a bit too often throughout the book. They were good metaphors that were completely over-used and it got very annoying at some point. Basically, there was a bit too much repetitiveness. Secondly, near the end something happens that seemed kind of… out of the blue, as if Avni had just run out of ideas. The happenstance was very well written and it was actually one of my favorite parts of the book but it did not tie in properly with the rest of the book. It was extremely unexpected in not in the good, understandable way. it was just odd.
In summary, I did enjoy the book and I recommend it to Israelis, Jews and all history lovers. ‘What If’ was my first venture into alternative history and I will certainly be reading more books of this genre. Not only is it interesting to imagine “what could’ve been” as Kfir puts it, it is also a great way to learn about real historical events. One of the best ways to understand a linear progression of events is to try and see what would happen if one point on the timeline changed, and to see how that would affect everything else.