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Dinner at the Center of the Earth

Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander
Sep 05, 2017 | 272 Pages
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“Glorious…devastating…a beautiful masterpiece.”

“Nathan Englander’s latest is, as usual, superb: a work of psychological precision and moral force, with an immediacy that captures both timeless human truth as well as the perplexities of the present day.”  
 —Colson Whitehead                                                                                                                      

“Many-splendored…a bold, compassionate novel.”
—New York Times Book Review

“A kaleidoscopic fairy tale of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation… One of the exhilarating aspects of Dinner at the Center of the Earth is its expansive sense of space and time…The effect is to heighten events, to transcend history in favor of a more allegorical realm…Englander has built a complex structure, by which his narrative reveals itself in pieces, and the less we know in advance, the more vividly we feel its turns…with this novel he frames history as both an act and a failure of the imagination, which is to say, in inherently, and inescapably, human terms.”
—Los Angeles Times

“Englander has produced a masterpiece of literary imagination that seems to mirror his own evolution.”
—Jerusalem Post

“Equal parts political thriller and tender lamentation, the latest from Englander explores, in swirling, nonlinear fashion, Israeli-Palestinian tensions and moral conflicts… Ultimately, Englander suggests that shared humanity and fleeting moments of kindness between jailer and prisoner, spy and counterspy, hold the potential for hope, even peace.”

“The ability to see the world from both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives is what gives Dinner at the Center of the Earth its optimistic moral center. Both Israelis and Palestinians are faithful to the righteousness of their own cause, but at times, characters can see a way past this most charged of conflicts to a future of peace… Yet while the novel is optimistic, it is also realistic. The violence, and the historical memory of past violence, keeps both sides addicted to carrying out further attacks in the name of retribution. Englander’s ability to capture the almost pathological nature to ‘get even’ shines.”
—NTK Network

“Appealing… Clever, fragmented, pithy… Englander is a wise observer with an empathetic heart.”
Publishers Weekly

“Since Englander set out to write a thriller, he delivers all of the twists and turns, the shocks and surprises, that we are entitled to expect in that genre. But he does not disappoint the readers of his earlier work who know him for his exquisite sensibilities and the sheer power of his literary prose. For that reason, Dinner at the Center of the Earth will only expand his reach and enrich his already considerable reputation.”
—Jewish Journal

“A dark, profound meditation on the state of Israel and also a gripping thriller, full of twists and moral ambiguity, it is an absolute joy to read.”
—Jewish Chronicle

Praise for Nathan Englander

“In Englander’s hands, storytelling is a transformative act. Put him alongside Singer, Carver, and Munro. Englander is, quite simply, one of the very best we have.”
—Colum McCann

“Englander tells the tangled truth of life in prose that, as ever, surprises the reader with its gnarled beauty.”
—Michael Chabon

“Nathan Englander’s fiction [is] always animated by a deep, vibrant core of historical resonance.”
—Jennifer Egan

“The depth of Englander’s feeling is the thing that separates him from just about everyone. You can hear his heart thumping feverishly on every page.”
—Dave Eggers

“Nathan Englander is one of those rare writers who, like Faulkner, manages to make his seemingly obsessive, insular concerns all the more universal for their specificity.”
—Richard Russo

Author Q&A

Q: DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is an intensely personal book for you. Can you please elaborate?
A: On my end, I can’t think of a more vulnerable-making novel. I moved to Jerusalem, in 1996, obsessed with being part of the peace process. I desperately wanted to experience that historical (and what I was sure was inevitable) moment. And no matter how hopeless it seems now, I promise you, it was right there. Peace between Israel and Palestine could have been realized with a lot less effort than it took to see it undone. Watching it all come apart broke my heart. Since then, I’ve wanted to tell a story that explores that conflict and engages, in some way, with the idea of empathy, and maybe offers a dash of hope.
Q: If you had to describe your book in two sentences:
A: Ha! Well, it’s about a spy turned traitor, and about betraying your betrayer, and about everything being the opposite of what it seems. It’s kind of a political thriller, woven into a historical novel, wrapped up in a love story—that turns into an allegory in the end.
Q: Can you discuss the novel’s structure? There are multiple timelines and many twists and turns.
A: When talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one thing that has me pulling out handfuls of hair in frustration is the circular nature of the fighting. There is buildup, there is battle, and then, after things settle for a time, it all starts again. Both sides seeking vengeance in response to the last time someone came avenging. When composing the novel, I wanted to find a way to keep that circular shape.

When I first showed up at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop a hundred years ago, I ended up in Marilynne Robinson’s class. She’s the one who made clear to me how I naturally (or, possibly, through rabbinical nurture) think in circles. So I learned to unravel my sentences, to tell story in a linear manner. And though the sentences are mostly straight in the novel, and the story direct, I finally found a book that begged for that spiral structure. So the revolutions in timeline and plot are both organic to the themes I was writing about, and organic to me.
Q: You haven’t written a novel in 10 years. How was the writing of this novel different from your other books?
A: I can tell you one element that was hugely different—I spent most of last year living in Zomba, Malawi with my family. I brought the rough draft of the novel with me, and did a massive rewrite there, for the better part of a year. To spend so much time inside this story (imagining), and so much time in memory (recalling), and to do that in a new place, separated from my usual distractions and obligations and also from many of the usual comforts (like regular electricity), was both a great gift and a challenge.  On the gift front, I spent countless hours in a little room at the edge of our house, looking out over a swathe of the plateau, and typing. That view, at first unfamiliar, is now very close to my heart.

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