Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Time of Green Ginger by Armstrong King

This book made a deep impression on me, in a way that I did not expect. I already wrote some of my impressions here and here, but I can't let it go without sharing a few more things from the book and telling you about the ending. (I don't feel too badly about the spoilers, because I have strong doubts about the likelihood of anyone finding and reading this book.)

I never did figure out what the title means, so if they give awards for obscure titles, this books is a strong candidate. I don't even know if "green ginger" is a particular kind of ginger, or if it means "unripe ginger." I don't understand the significance of the "time" of green ginger. I'm guessing that it's either an Australian expression, or a dated expression from the 1930's or 40's, with connotations long since lost.

None of the characters were memorable or finely drawn, but they weren't meant to be. Each character is pretty much "everyman," or rather, "everyjew," "everyarab," or "everybrit." They stand in for their type, so it is not necessary for them to grow or change as characters, only to act in character.

As I mentioned before, every perspective is given even treatment, and so, though the book, we understand how each group feels. Whether we agree with their methods or not, we understand to some extent why they act as they do, and we feel along with them that the difficulties are too complex to unravel. When dialogue takes place between groups, one character usually misunderstands another, or one is deliberately concealing something, or just blatantly lying. "Aggressive negotiations" rule the day. Please forgive the non-pc nature of the following quotes.

Spoken by one of the British:

"I'm told nobody stays straight here. Either you build the Arab up into a paragon of virtue, or you see him as a stinking wog. As for the Jew, he's always the devil or the saint. Everybody sees what he wants to see in this country--at least, that's what they tell me."

From a British soldier musing on God's working in Israel and historical precedent:

How was one to reconcile death and mutilation with a Divine Plan? He poured another whiskey. Terrorism was cowardly and easy when you knew the victim would swallow his anger and smash no skulls. What would happen if the hot-heads were allowed to fight terror with terror? It would be easy, so despicably easy, to mine Jewish homes, schools and synagogues; to fight fire with fire. He knew what the Romans would have done--the furor Romanus, like the furor Teutonicus, would have left no stone standing.

The rational of a Jewish terrorist, concerning the bombing of the King David Hotel:

This was to be the big demonstration, this was to direct the eyes of the world upon a Britain which refused, even at this late hour, to open the floodgates of Jewish immigration. This was to the be most spectacular breakthrough in modern publicity; this was to take fire into the lion's den, and bring down approbation and contempt upon a blustering Army.

The thoughts of a potential Arab terrorist upon seeing Britain's forbearance after the bombing:

"Is it possible that great and mighty Britain, who has given our country away, is nothing more than a pregant camel, a rotten pumpkin? All these years we have sat at a graveside, deeming it a fortress!" And they howled derision at all things British, declaring by the very God himself that the British were afraid of the Jews! "For how can it be otherwise?" they asked. "How can it, when the British sit in their army camps and no man's hand is raised in revenge?"

Toward the end of the book, a few minor characters wandered back into the story to remind us that, in addition to the British, the Jews, and the Arabs, there was a helpless minority in Palestine as well--Christians who belongs to neither of the other groups, who viewed Palestine as home, but were neither Arabs nor Jews. They knew they were hated by both larger groups, and would have no protection after Britain withdrew.

One of these characters is an old man, who has spent his life building a stone wall around his property, which sits on a hill. He finishes the wall just before he dies, and is buried near it. The British have been using his property as an outpost, and on the day the British are withdrawing from Palestine, a few British soldiers are saying their farewells to some Arab friends while they wait for transport. Before their own trucks come, Jewish fighters arrive and take them prisoner, hoping to establish themselves on the protected hillside. Thus, Brits, Arabs, and Jews are behind the wall when Arab fighters from below begin launching mortars over the wall. Explosion after explosion kills them all--the enemies die together, and the carefully constructed wall is no protection at all. And that is the end. I'm not saying any of this eloquently, but the message could not have been clearer if it had been written out in black and white.

I wasn't expecting a happy ending, and I already knew that the author did not strongly favor one group over another. He seems to have seen the difficulties, and believed that mutual destruction was the most likely end to the situation. I found the book so timely because of the frank discussion of terrorism, various responses to terrorism, and the results of those responses--all free from the jargon and baggage of our own political climate.

I don't think it would be easy to acquire a copy of this book, but I say without hesitation that it would be worth the time and trouble--not because it is great literature, but because it has a message from the past that directly addresses an important issue for our time as well, and that message is delivered in a manner that carries more weight than any political rhetoric could ever hope to do. And it would make a great movie. Should I draft a screenplay?


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