Dinner at the Centre of the Earth by Nathan Englander review – the trauma of conflict

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A spy story that cuts between time and place brings home the devastating psychological impact of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle

Where this book so resonantly succeeds is as a meditation on the many traumas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – slap bang, as Nathan Englander reminds us, in the geographical centre of the standard map of the Earth.

This is Englander’s second novel, but his reputation was made by his first two collections of short stories. The epigraph he has chosen is from Julian Barnes’s The Sense of An Ending and his writing has much in common with Barnes’s fine literary intelligence: a well-tempered intellectual and artistic pleasure, replete with collusive wit and playfulness. But his theme and subject here could not be less Barnesian – the psychological impact on the individual of the atrocities and failed peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians; how to live, in other words, within the grim cycle of reprisal.

Related: In conversation: Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer

Now I’m sounding as if I didn’t like the novel. But I really did. There were passages of great humanity and wisdom

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