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Dinner at the Center of the Earth

Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander
Hardcover
Sep 05, 2017 | 272 Pages
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Praise

A Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year

“[A] bold, compassionate, genre-hopping novel.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Superb: a work of psychological precision and moral force, with an immediacy that captures both timeless human truth and the perplexities of the present day.” —Colson Whitehead

“[A] brutal, beautiful masterpiece.” —NPR
 
“Exhilarating.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“Haunting.” —Esquire
 
“A subtle, nuanced, fierce novel.” —Julian Barnes, The Guardian

“One of more consistently brilliant, bold, and funny writers.” —Dave Eggers
 
Dinner at the Center of the Earth blends elements of spy thriller and love story, magical realism, and an all-too-real history of one of the world’s most intractable problems: peace between Israel and its neighbors.” —The Boston Globe
 
“It’s difficult to describe Englander’s novel without giving something away. There’s a delicious puzzle that becomes evident as it unfolds. . . . As weighty and political as Dinner at the Center of the Earth seems, it’s also a plot-driven page-turner. . . . We must now compare Englander to Graham Greene as well as Philip Roth. And he comes off well in the comparison.” —Houston Chronicle
 
Dinner at the Center of the Earth illuminates the zealot’s blindness, the patriot’s struggle for clarity, and the enduring dream of a coming together.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
 
“Englander writes the stories I am always hoping for.” —Geraldine Brooks
 
“Moving. . . . A twisty tale of spycraft and false allegiances unfolds, but what stands out is Mr. Englander’s insistence on finding romance amid the violence and deception. . . . The ageless struggle between Jews and Arabs comes to resemble a desperate lover’s embrace.” —The Wall Street Journal
 
“A literary spy thriller. . . . Englander is as wise and funny and original and moving as ever.” —Financial Times
 
“An absolute joy to read. . . . A dark, profound meditation on the state of Israel and also a gripping thriller, full of twists and moral ambiguity.” —The Jewish Chronicle
 
“A wistful fantasy of an impossible Israeli-Palestinian romance.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“One of the best we have.” —Column McCann
 
“A searing message about the difficulty of just action and human connection amid the pingpong match of retaliation in the Middle East.” —Newsday
 
“[A] complicated but masterful exploration of the many contradictions of the modern State of Israel.” —Haaretz
 
“A riveting tale.” —Austin Chronicle
 
“Smart and intriguing.” —Library Journal
 
“Striking. . . . A thought-provoking political thriller with some romance and cheeky humor thrown in for good measure.” —BuzzFeed
 
“Clever, fragmented, pithy. . . . Englander is a wise observer with an empathetic heart.” —Publishers Weekly
 
“Englander has produced a masterpiece of literary imagination that seems to mirror his own evolution.” —The Jerusalem Post

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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