From The San Francisco Chronicle: "San Francisco author Alan Kaufman is at work on a novel about the Israeli Defense Forces, which he has tentatively titled "Matches" -- the "traditional IDF code word for soldiers," he says. The following excerpt, which Kaufman has titled "The Orchard," is taken from that novel. " 'The Orchard' is a true incident, but I classify it -- and the book -- as 'fiction' as I have changed names to disguise and sometimes protect people." Kaufman is the author of the memoir "Jew Boy" and editor of "The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry." His writings have appeared most recently in McSweeney's (Online), the Los Angeles Times and Partisan Review, and he teaches at the Academy of Art College."
Alan gives an overview of the book:
That morning, when it was done, when we were sickened unto death, and curfew reigned, we tore our helmets off and sped through the riot streets of shattered glass over blood-spattered flagstones. Past bullet-punched walls we flew. The boiling black smoke pillars of burning tires stalked us like the desert God. Our wheels scattered spent shells, crimson rocks. Here and there, one of our "cousins," as we called the locals, curled in a doorway, defiant, weeping with rage, his kafeeyah clenched in his teeth. The air reeked of camel s-- and dread. My sleepless eyes drifted shut: on their side six shot, no telling how many dead, and from our end two wounded, bad, and one, curly-headed Reuvi, the newlywed, bagged for a grave. Only twenty-four he was, the boy. A mob-tossed hand grenade mangled his guts. A bad scene. My mouth yawned wide to gulp the morning air, and my filthy fingers pried my eyes apart. I was no boy. I was twenty-eight and needed strong mud coffee. But we did not stop. We could not. Neither did we take the patrol route back to base: we fled town. Good riddance. F-- them all! The blurred green-black road trembled, the sun risen over us with an ill- sounding birdsong. Sometimes, a song can sound diseased. We stopped our ears. I put my fists to mine. I shook. Then the armored car swerved sharply and Brandt shouted something indecipherable and we rumbled through a vineyard into a clearing. At the end of the road it was, in a grove of olive trees. Right there, we pulled off the red clay and onto thick brown grass and stopped. Brandt and Uri jumped out, dropped their guns to the ground, shrugged off their gear, threw themselves down and passed out, clutching the grass like a woman's hair. Groggily, I followed suit. The last thing I saw before sleep was a giant black fly stropping its legs on my hand. I was the first awakened to see the old Arab squatting there beside our guns. A Palestinian. My eyes snapped from him to the weapons and back. He held out apples, said whatever: I didn't care to know. Climbing casually to my feet I walked with a fiercely pounding heart to the guns, shouldered mine, and collecting the others, deposited them next to my sleeping comrades, whom I brought awake with sharp kicks. The Arab took in all this. When Uri talked to him in perfect Arabic, the old man listened carefully, his black clotted eyes mucal with age. His thin frowning face had a prominent square jaw, covered with gray thistles. His apricot-colored skin was mapped with a thousand prehistoric wadis. An aura of bandoliers and virgin brides hung about him, and scores of grandchildren playing in his ravines. He wore a white kafeeyah with a black agal, the traditional headdress, a long white Shillahat robe with billowing sleeves and turquoise sirwal pants. He was a ragged old rake. He had rope sandals on his thickly callused feet. In his worn leather belt was that short Bedouin knife they use to cut the throats of game birds. When a breeze stirred the kafeeyah, it revealed large sculpted ears delicately inlaid with fine white hairs. Finally, Uri finished and the old man thought. Then he spoke, his hands gesturing with strong, graceful motions that trembled from age. When he finished, he looked around at us and nodded to each emphatically and slapped the back of one hand against the palm of the other, again and again. "He says," Uri began, "that his name is Jamal Abu-Da'ud. That we are guests on his farm. That we are in an orchard here, planted by his own hands with the help of three sons and ten grandchildren. His wife is dead. His daughters all married. He has lived here since infancy. Wants we should eat his fruit. Ours to eat, he says. Says that we have nothing to fear." Uri paused. Then: "And he says that he knows that our peoples are at war. That he has seen what his own people do and he knows the war they make is cruel. And he has also seen Israeli soldiers like us come and go and what we do. He thinks that everyone has gone very crazy. But that is out there, he says, beyond the orchard, and not here. And yes, if they ask him to, he will join them to fight, because he is a patriot. Then, yes, he too will make war on us. But not here, he says. Here we are not Arab or Jew, but only men eating fruit. He encourages us to eat our fill before we go. He wishes us a good rest. There is no rush. He'll bring water to refresh ourselves with." And with that, Uri nodded and the old man rose and walked off. "Eat up quick and let's get the f-- out of here before he returns with 'friends,' " said Brandt. He spit in the dust. And added: "Murdering old son- of-a-b--!" Hurriedly, we filled our helmets with apples, jumped aboard the armored car and roared off. They all had guns hidden someplace. Even an old man like that. "How good is your Arabic?" Brandt snarled at Uri, whom we knew to be a real peacenik. "I think you made up that old s--'s speech!" We laughed, Uri too. We were so dead tired. True or not about Uri's little speech, we all feared our return to the city of graves, where more rioting loomed. But even as we laughed in despair, we peered back hard at the old man's groves. We no longer searched for his gun's muzzle flash, but watched his trees recede smaller and smaller, his world disappearing, and even now, long after it has vanished altogether, still, we glance back to there, or what we think is there, so far away. We look with a sense of longing and regret, though that too is fast fading.
Alan Kaufman's most recent book, Drunken Angel, a memoir, appears in paperback and hardcover from Viva Editions. His novel Matches was published by Little, Brown and Company in the Fall of 2005. David Mamet has called Matches "an extraordinary war novel," and Dave Eggers has...
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