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  • Fields of Exile by Nora Gold
  • Goldie Morgentaler (bio)
Nora Gold
Fields of Exile
Toronto: Dundurn, 2014. 424 pp.

Nora Gold’s Fields of Exile addresses an issue that has become an uncomfortable fact of life for Jewish faculty, staff and students on North American university campuses: the ongoing demonization of Israel in events such as Israel Apartheid Week and anti-Israel demonstrations. Gold uses fiction to dramatize what one Jewish student might encounter on one such campus.

The novel opens with Judith Gallanter, a young Jewish-Canadian woman, returning to Canada after several years of living in Israel to visit her dying father. She intends to go back to Israel as soon as she can, but it is her father’s dying wish that she obtain her Master’s degree in her chosen field of social work, and she promises him to stay in Canada for the year that it will take to get her degree. The rest of the novel deals with the consequences of this decision, as Judith enrolls at Dunhill University, a fictitious institution that Gold locates a short distance outside Toronto.

Judith’s politics are left-leaning. She had been an active member of the peace movement in Israel, and she thinks of herself as someone who cares deeply about righting society’s inequalities. At first she agrees with the general ethos of her social work faculty, whose members claim to be engaged in “educating ourselves about the oppressions, injustices and structural inequalities in Canadian society”—a point of view that leads to arguments with her conservative lawyer boyfriend, Bobby.

But as the school term progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that one of the countries Judith’s teachers and fellow students deem the “most oppressive in the world” is Judith’s beloved Israel. Anti-Israel sentiments are encouraged in Judith’s classes and promoted in the major campus event of the year, Anti-Oppression Day. In fact, the invited speaker for Anti-Oppression Day is Michael Brier, a well-known pro-Palestinian ideologue who boasts of his friendship with the Palestinian mastermind of an attack against Israeli schoolchildren. Thus the stage is set for the novel’s violent climax, which will pit Judith against the anti-Israel forces on her campus. The consequences, for Judith, are harsh: She is badly beaten when she tries to counter some of the racist slurs against Israel that are being chanted by the crowd. [End Page 163]

Fields of Exile provides no easy solutions to the issues it raises, especially for Jews on the left side of the political spectrum, and that is part of its merit. For instance, whenever her mind wanders during her classes, Judith fantasizes about Moshe, the married Israeli “sabra” with whom she had an affair. The sexual nature of Judith’s attraction to Moshe, her constant fantasies about him, as well as his biblical name suggest an allegorical dimension to his character. Moshe, the lover, stands for Israel, the beloved country. That he is married creates an interesting wrinkle, suggesting not only that he is unobtainable, but also that the love Judith felt for him was doomed from the beginning. Moreover, for all his erotic attractions, there are problems with Moshe. He makes racist comments about Moroccans; he cheats on his wife with Judith. None of this diminishes Judith’s intense attraction to and longing for him. In the same way, she is perfectly aware of the problems in Israeli society, including the building of settlements and the opportunistic appropriation of Arab land, but these in no way diminish her unconditional love for the country. Judith may think of Israel as “the love of her life,” but she is not blind to its faults.

This kind of shading is one of the strengths of Gold’s novel, and it appears in additional plot elements. Early on, there is a scene in Judith’s classroom at Dunhill in which one of the students, acting on her own religious convictions, takes a strong stand against abortion, causing a furor in the class. Despite being mocked and attacked from all sides, the pro-life student bravely sticks to her point of view. Judith agrees with...


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pp. 163-166
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