Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story
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“A book about young men transformed by war, written by a veteran whose dazzling literary gifts gripped my attention from the first page to the last.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Friedman’s sober and striking new memoir . . . [is] on a par with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried -- its Israeli analog.” —The New York Times Book Review
It was just one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples that are still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for “casualties.” Award-winning writer Matti Friedman re-creates the harrowing experience of a band of young Israeli soldiers charged with holding this remote outpost, a task that would change them forever, wound the country in ways large and small, and foreshadow the unwinnable conflicts the United States would soon confront in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Raw and beautifully rendered, Pumpkinflowers will take its place among classic war narratives by George Orwell, Philip Caputo, and Tim O’Brien. It is an unflinching look at the way we conduct war today.
to be over.” Should we laugh at this line, or weep? A new Middle East was being born just then, but not the one anyone imagined. It was happening in the scrub among boulders and concrete fortifications on a hill in the south of Lebanon. Only a few young people were present for the delivery. 11 A FEW WEEKS after the Pumpkin Incident and not long after Avi arrived on the hill, guerrillas ambushed an army convoy coming from Israel. They emerged from the houses of a village that cowered beneath
in radical egalitarianism played out, its presence at the heart of our society sorely missed and irreplaceable. No one knew exactly what happened at first, but they were saying one of the Alter kids was en route to the Pumpkin and hadn’t called. Bruria had been through a few wars. Her husband was wounded fighting the Syrians in 1973. She knew what it meant when officers in dress uniform arrived at the kibbutz gate, which happened five times in the 1973 war alone. But she trusted the country’s
loader-radioman in a crew bound for the Pumpkin made the reasonable decision that he wasn’t going, and disappeared, the unit sent Jonah as a replacement. During his time in the army Jonah spent many hours memorizing poetry to stave off boredom. He started with a pocket paperback of Natan Alterman’s Stars Outside and still remembers fragments: . . . the city bathed in the cries of crickets . . . the moon on the cypress bayonet . . . I will not stop looking, and I will not stop breathing, And I
that Hezbollah now had a weapon that could penetrate the concrete roof. The soldiers thought it might be some kind of drone, but the army wasn’t telling them anything, only that the next target was the Pumpkin. In retrospect we know it was a substantial rocket manufactured in Iran, which was bad enough, but the secrecy made it seem even worse, a “Judgment Day weapon,” as one of them remembered later on. There was a rumor that rescue teams with cranes and jackhammers were standing by in Israel to
stomach and the whole hill shuddered. When he peeked out he saw a dust cloud rising just to the north. The thing had missed. A few Israeli jets were in the air waiting to destroy the launcher once it fired, and they swooped down, and the soldiers never heard more about it. If nothing else, the incident shows that if you’re facing men dug in and immobile on hostile ground, you don’t need to do much but leave them to their imaginations. 45 TRUCKS ARRIVED CARRYING hundreds of olive discs,