I have a very odd sense of humor

The People of Forever are not Afraid

Shani Boianjiu is an Israeli author. Her writing has notably appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Humour pervades the novel, usually during situations we would not expect to be funny. How meaningful was it for you to keep a light tone despite the seriousness of your subject?

My novel deals with young people. Also, my time in the army was the funniest time in my life. I often find humor in life. It was important for me to be true to that. But I was not trying to make the stories intentionally funny in order for them to be easier for the readers. In fact, I was very surprised to find that other people saw the humor in my stories because I have a very odd sense of humor. I would say that the army is actually a situation that is naturally comical in some ways—taking very young people and giving them uniform and new positions and expecting them to act certain parts, almost as if they are in a play.

What led you to choose to tell this story through the filter of fiction rather than non-fiction?

The stories are fictional, even surreal in the eyes of some. They are my imaginations. I was not interested in presenting an opinion. I am interested in imagining things. I also think there are enough people writing about their opinions regarding the Middle East. I honestly don’t think I can be heard if I wrote non-fiction at this point. In the future maybe that is something I would choose to do. But fiction is what I love to do. It is what I know best.

Though they are friends in high school before their service, over time the three girls are more and more prey to loneliness and idleness. Is this something you witnessed a lot during your time in the I.D.F.?

I would say yes. People do tend to drift away, although I do know of some people that stay close with their high school friends. I do not think one can generalize based on my book though. I bet you could find people who found their best friends in the army as well. But it can be a very isolating experience because you do not get to choose where you will serve, or with whom you will serve. People from very different social groups and geographic areas are expected to serve together and not everyone makes friends in this environment, even though the myth is you do.

During the demonstration, Lea uses a Federal gun which “looked more like a toy gun than any actual toy gun she had ever seen”, and a lot of scenes in the novel play with the discrepancy between childhood and adulthood. Was this discrepancy a key element for you when you set out to write the novel?

Yes very much so. I think the borderline between adulthood and childhood is a very strange one, and it becomes even more blunt in light of the army. Someone who was considered a child a few weeks before is now a soldier, but how much has that person changed inside? Many of my stories happen between those ages when one is not quite an adult in his own eyes but also no longer a child. I think young people in all societies take a lot longer to grow up today. This line between adulthood and childhood is also a line that distinguishes between what is real and what is unreal in the novel in many cases.

Did you get any feedback on the novel from people who were, like you, in the I.D.F.?

I did a bit. Some women said they could really relate to it, particularly women who were much older than myself. But I only heard from a couple of people who served in the IDF.

Editorial reviews (1 review)

The narrative feels more like a succession of vignettes – it isn't strong enough to make me care about the characters, or carry the book through to its end.