'What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?': a true tale

Horror is where the heart is


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The brutal attacks and innocent victims who lose arms and legs and sometimes even their lives are things we can hardly imagine from the safety of our screens. But in Israel, daily life is riddled with opportunities to experience that fear. The fear that riding the bus or walking down a crowded street could in a second become a threat to your life.

In his authorial debut, David Harris-Gershon gives us a new perspective into the horrors many in the region have grown all too accustomed to living with. In "What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?" Mr. Harris-Gershon recounts the experience of being not the victim, but the significant other who must cope with the effects of a suicide bombing.


"WHAT DO YOU BUY THE CHILDREN OF THE TERRORIST WHO TRIED TO KILL YOUR WIFE?"
By David Harris-Gershon
One World ($17.95).

In 2002, during the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire talks, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria of Hebrew University where Mr. Harris-Gershon's wife, Jamie, and their close friends had been eating lunch.

That fateful afternoon, while eating pasta in the safety of their apartment, Mr. Harris-Gershon received a call to learn that his wife had been severely injured. Jamie suffered from severe burn wounds. And a piece of shrapnel had pierced her intestines, requiring immediate surgery. Hours later, in the intensive care unit, the surgeon offered Mr. Harris-Gershon the tiny piece of twisted metal that came so close to killing his wife.

A year later, returning to the United States to start over again, Mr. Harris-Gershon became psychologically paralyzed by the attack. The pain of the experience left him in a quest to understand the rationale behind an experience that could not merit rational explanation.

He decided he must meet the man who laid the bomb in that backpack: Mohammad Odeh.

For most of the book, we wait for that amazing and terrifying moment when Mr. Harris-Gershon will confront the man who has pulled apart his family, and who, at one point, threatened its very existence. And yet, it's a moment that never comes.

Although there are beautiful moments in this work, such as when Mr. Harris-Gershon gives toys to the "beautiful" children of Odeh, it is a bit disappointing to find out that despite his attempts, he is never able to actually meet that man face-to-face.

The work also suffers from feeling like an assignment for a creative writing class. Perhaps it is too obvious a point that Mr. Harris-Gershon wrote the manuscript while attending an MFA program at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

The first half of the book feels like the drafts that needed to be put to paper to reach the second half, which is far more polished and engaging. Mr. Harris-Gershon's tendency to resort to speaking with himself at critical moments in the narrative also takes us away from a more nuanced perspective into his psyche.

The most successful portion of the book is in the second to last section, titled "Collective History," which is about the Palestinian version of the conflict. Captivating, it is as close to empathetic as the husband of a terrorist attack victim could get.

In sum, the book serves as a healthy exercise for Mr. Harris-Gershon, who, it seems, was finally able to come to terms with the grief, anxiety and pain of this tragic moment. Perhaps it will inspire others to do the same.

Evi Heilbrunn is a health journalist living in Washington, D.C. (eviheilbrunn@gmail.com).


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