Review published on November 13, 2017.
Banned in Israeli schools for its depiction of a taboo romance, All the Rivers is a deeply touching and effective portrait of a relationship seemingly doomed by outside forces. Liat, an Israeli, and Hilmi, a Palestinian, meet in New York in a chance encounter that quickly leads to a passionate, sweet but secret love affair, clinging to each other even as their cultural differences threaten to overwhelm them.
I’m not usually one for romance, but in All the Rivers, Rabinyan creates such a beautiful and believable relationship that I found it impossible to resist. From their romcom-recalling “meet-cute” in a cafe, Liat and Hilmi’s story reads like an old-fashioned romantic movie, with domestic disputes and relatable melodrama in amongst their more serious differences. I didn’t find either character particularly appealing, principally because of their realistically flawed presentation by the author, and it’s a real strength of Rabinyan’s writing that their quirks don’t alienate the reader, instead adding authenticity to the book. Despite my apprehensions about each character as individuals, I rooted for them as a pair, which is surely the most important element of a relationship-driven narrative.
I opted to read All the Rivers mainly because of my obsession with learning about the world, and, in this respect too, it was an excellent choice. Despite the intimate, often claustrophobic nature of Liat and Hilmi’s story, the backdrop of the ongoing real-life tension between Israel and Palestine lent the novel fascinating context as well as a Romeo and Juliet-style plot. It’s a complex and confusing political situation, but I think Rabinyan features it in such a way that even an unfamiliar reader can gain some understanding of the delicate state of Middle Eastern politics.
As well as the absorbing relationship at its heart and historical conflicts in the background, All the Rivers is a quite gorgeously written novel, which sweeps the reader along in its wake. The depiction of Liat and Hilmi’s fast-moving love is so closely observed that it’s anatomical, and it’s a relationship well worth reading about.
Katy Goodwin-Bates 4/4
All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan
Serpent’s Tail 9781781257647 pbk Mar 2017