Leshem, Ron. “Beaufort”, (translated by Evan Fallenberg), Delacorte Press, 2008.
Boys to Men
If you haven’t heard of Ron Leshem’s “Beaufort” you will. “Beaufort” which is now available in English (translated beautifully from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg, author of the amazing “Light Fell”) is the book that the Academy Award nominated Israeli film is based upon. In
its original Hebrew the book won Israel’s top literary award and the film went on to win the award for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The story is set in 1999 in the north of Israel and in southern Lebanon during the conflict between the two countries. Lieutenant Erez Liberti, nee Liraz (but nicknamed Erez because his commanding officer feels that Liraz is too feminine) is the main character as well as narrator of the book.
Beaufort is a military outpost that Israel captured from Lebanon in 1982 and it is the focal point of the book. It is at Beaufort that relationships are built between the young Israeli soldiers stationed there and this is what this book is about. Leshem manages to blend historic fact and fictional personages as he tells the story of that period before Israel withdrew from Lebanon.
In order to enjoy the book, no prior knowledge if the situation is necessary and the writing is beautiful—something that does not necessarily happen in a translated work. It reads as a black comedy but what it really is, it seems to me, is a coming of age story. We get a picture of what war is from the point of view of a soldier and even with its crude language and mounting death tolls, this is a story of friendship and Leshem shows us what the bonds of manhood are. Subversively funny and funny at the same time, we read about the horrors and ridicularity of war as well as of the camaraderie of men.
To the very few Israeli soldiers who occupy the fortress, Beaufort is hell and is surrounded by the enemy. Liberti, for the thirteen men that are with him, wears many hats—he is a confessor, a slave driver and a hope for survival against the terrible attacks leveled at the site. It is a tense rime for the young men and death seems imminent. Liberti and his men create their own world and spend a lot of time talking—talking about the things that all young men talk about—women and sex; however they add another topic to their discussions—death and their dead comrades. The guys are frightened, angry and tired. They receive one last order; they are to perform a mission that is to change everything and thereby show just how futile war is.
At a time in out own history when we are engaged in a war with an enemy of which we know little about and in a place of which we also know nothing, it is to our advantage that we read about the horrors and futility of battle. Ron Leshem and his translator Even Fallenberg give that to us and do so beautifully.