David King is the head of “King’s Moving“, a New York based family business specialised in moving homes. Couples moving in together, couples going separate ways. David and his wife Bonnie also separated, their daughter Tammy wastes his father’s money and his secretary Ruth now manages not only the office but all of David’s life. There is just one thing she cannot help him with: David’s cousin from Israel asked him to welcome her son Yoav for some time. He just came out of the IDF and like all the others, needs some travelling to forget the years in the army. David has only met Yoav once many years ago when he spent a couple of hours with his family in Jerusalem. But he is sure to offer the young man exactly what he needs, not taking into account what serving in one of the world’s toughest armies means.
Joshua Cohen’s novel appears in the beginning to be some lightweight and funny story about making business in New York and knowing (or rather: not knowing) the rules of conduct among the super-rich. David is not the classic businessman who knows his way around the upper class, he disposes of some cleverness which helped him to set up his business, but he is not really familiar with the codes. The same applies to his visit in Israel a couple of years earlier. As a Jew, he feels like having to know the historic sites in Israel but cannot connect anything with the places – just like his cousin who shows him around. When family duty calls, in form of accommodating young Yoav, he does not hesitate to fulfil the wish.
However, with the appearance of Yoav, the novel changes its tone. It is not the humorous atmosphere which prevails now, but a rather despairing and depressive mood that comes from Yoav and takes over. Having served three years in the IDF did not go without scars for him. He was in a special unit which was of no special use in peaceful times but well equipped for the emergency. Now as a civilian, he has serious problems integrating into normal life. He can only accomplish small tasks every day and spends most of his time on the couch doing nothing. He can hardly cope with being alive, not speaking of building friendships and a new life in a foreign country.
The novel takes another turn when Yoav’s fried Uri makes his appearance. Being allocated the same unit should have created a lifelong bond, but the young men are very different and their diverting points of view create more and more tension between them. Yoav is reflecting on his place in the world and what he has seen and done in the army:
“you can’t stop being a soldier, just like you can’t stop being a Jew […] You were born a soldier, because you were born a Jew. “ (pos. 1392)
By birth he is denied the chance of making a choice in his life. And as an Israeli, people will never be impartial when they meet him. Everybody has an opinion, either on Jews, or in Israelis, or on both. They are held responsible for things they are neither responsible for nor had a chance to do something about it.
A third party is contrasted with them. A black veteran who fought in Vietnam and has lost in belief in the Christian God as well as the American state who should take care of those who have served the country abroad. His only way out is converting to Islam and seeking refuge in addiction. So, who of them is worse off? The forgotten veteran, the black American, the American Jew or the Israeli Jew?
How defining is religion after all? For most of the characters it does not provide help or relief from everyday burdens. It also does not seem to provide a framework to organise their life around. So, build your life without it, but what are the rules then? It seems to be a minefield and you can only survive of you are stronger and live at the expenses of the others it seems.