**A 2019 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist**
**A 2018 National Jewish Book Award Finalist for Debut Fiction**
In this “nuanced, sharp, and beautifully written” (Michael Chabon) debut novel, a young man prepares to serve in the Israeli army while also trying to reconcile his close relationship to two Palestinian siblings with his deeply ingrained loyalties to family and country.
The story begins in an Israeli military jail, where—four days after his nineteenth birthday—Jonathan stares up at the fluorescent lights of his cell and recalls the series of events that led him there.
Two years earlier: Moving back to Israel after several years in Pennsylvania, Jonathan is ready to fight to preserve and defend the Jewish state. But he is also conflicted about the possibility of having to monitor the occupied Palestinian territories, a concern that grows deeper and more urgent when he meets Nimreen and Laith—the twin daughter and son of his mother’s friend.
From that morning on, the three become inseparable: wandering the streets on weekends, piling onto buses toward new discoveries, laughing uncontrollably. They share joints on the beach, trading snippets of poems, intimate secrets, family histories, resentments, and dreams. But with his draft date rapidly approaching, Jonathan wrestles with the question of what it means to be proud of your heritage, while also feeling love for those outside of your own family. And then that fateful day arrives, the one that lands Jonathan in prison and changes his relationship with the twins forever.
“Unflinching in its honesty, unyielding in its moral complexity” (Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize–winning author), Sadness Is a White Bird explores one man’s attempts to find a place for himself, discovering in the process a beautiful, against-the-odds love that flickers like a candle in the darkness of a never-ending conflict.
Rothman-Zecher's outstanding debut takes its title from a Mahmoud Darwish poem: "Sadness is a white bird that does not come near a battlefield." On the cusp of adulthood, Jonathan returns with his family from America to Israel, which means that soon he must serve in the Israeli army. Having been told the tragic stories of his Jewish ancestors, this service to his people is something he dreamed of as a boy. But after meeting the daughter and son of his mother's Palestinian friend, twins named Nimreen and Laith, whom Jonathan dictates his story to, the lens through which he views the world changes. In poetic, epistolary prose, Rothman-Zecher describes Jonathan's growing love for Nimreen ("the tangled curtain of her blackbird hair") and for Laith, "voice soft like your sister's, loamy like the ground," whose sweet, lazy disposition provokes deep affection and loyalty. Against Nimreen's wishes, Jonathan joins the paratroopers, with tragic consequences that cause Jonathan to spiral into what may or may not be insanity. Rothman-Zecher has an unusual way with words, giving lovely, fresh descriptions of desire, violence, and injustice.