Book Review: Waiting for Paradise February 26, 2015 18:00
By Dan Drost, JanMar Publications, 2007, 362 pp.
Reviewed by Dan McGowan
An entertaining and exciting novel, Waiting For Paradise deals with the massacre at Deir Yassin and the ethnic cleansing that it ushered in. There are hundreds of books written on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course, but most deal with it from the Israeli point of view. In standard American vernacular, this book tells the Palestinian side of 1948—and for that reason is likely to be shunned by most major presses.
Drost’s very original work is in many ways a description of the metamorphosis of ordinary people raised on Zionist myths (of a land without people for a people without land, for example, or that God gave the Jews the land) whose opinions change radically when they learn the truths about 20th century Palestinian history. Many people, Jews and non-Jews alike—and especially Americans—go to Israel imbued with the half-truths continuously told by Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz, Morton Klein, Dennis Ross and other political pundits. After only a short time living and talking with real Palestinians, however, they become activists for Palestinian human rights. Drost’s character, Sean MacNamee, is such a person.
Waiting for Paradise is of real importance, not for the history it tells, nor for the action novel it is, but for its ability to tell historical truths to ordinary American readers. And Drost does it with subtlety and humor.
Sean is a middle-aged ne’er-do-well, with no particular direction. He survived Catholicism, plays table tennis with Jewish friends at the temple, is tough but tender, and has no perspective beyond drinking beer, driving an obnoxious SUV, and having sex. And yet Sean becomes interested and goes out of his way to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and gets drawn into it on the side of the “bad guys.”
It is also noteworthy that Drost moves the reader from serious historical discussion by characters Hassan and Sarah to the light-hearted and even sarcastic moods of Sean, his friend Tim, and others with no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a wonderful technique. It refreshes the reader and allows him/her to rejoin the serious narrative later on. The same radical change of venue allows the reader to share the passion of being a Palestinian and the passion of being a Jew, as when Sean moves from listening to Hassan to “chilling out” at the temple with Rabinovich and Holly.
Waiting For Paradise is highly readable and holds the reader’s attention throughout. It introduces new and unexpected topics (the Holocaust narrative of Sarah, the Russian connection, the role of Arab Americans who are tired of the Palestinian issue but nevertheless are sympathetic to the plight of their brethren, the vindictiveness of Zionist Americans, the pivotal role of Deir Yassin in contemporary Palestinian history). The ending is fantastic and may leave readers in tears. It would be a great movie.
Daniel A. McGowan is executive director of Deir Yassin Remembered, <http://www.deiryassin.org>.