Modern Literature Ron Leshem Beaufort

ISBN 13: 9780553806823

Beaufort

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9780553806823: Beaufort

By turns subversive and darkly comic, brutal and tender, Ron Leshem’s debut novel is an international literary sensation, winner of Israel’s top award for literature and the basis for a prizewinning film. Charged with brilliance and daring, hypnotic in its intensity, Beaufort is at once a searing coming-of-age story and a novel for our times—one of the most powerful, visceral portraits of the horror, camaraderie, and absurdity of war in modern fiction.

Beaufort. To the handful of Israeli soldiers occupying the ancient crusader fortress, it is a little slice of hell—a forbidding, fear-soaked enclave perched atop two acres of land in southern Lebanon, surrounded by an enemy they cannot see. And to the thirteen young men in his command, Twenty-one-year-old Lieutenant Liraz “Erez” Liberti is a taskmaster, confessor, and the only hope in the face of attacks that come out of nowhere and missions seemingly designed to get them all killed.

All around them, tension crackles in the air. Long stretches of boredom and black humor are punctuated by flashes of terror. And the threat of death is constant. But in their stony haven, Erez and his soldiers have created their own little world, their own rules, their own language. And here Erez listens to his men build castles out of words, telling stories, telling lies, talking incessantly of women, sex, and dead comrades. Until, in the final days of the occupation, Erez and his squad of fed-up, pissed-off, frightened young soldiers are given one last order: a mission that will shatter all remaining illusions—and stand as a testament to the universal, gut-wrenching futility of war.
The basis for the Academy Award-nominated film of the same name.

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About the Author:

Ron Leshem is deputy director in charge of programming at Channel Two, Israel’s main commercial television network. Beaufort won the Sapir Prize—Israel’s top literary award—in 2006. The film version of Beaufort, which Leshem coauthored with director Joseph Cedar, won the Berlin International Film Festival’s Silver Bear for Best Director. Leshem lives in Tel Aviv and is at work on his second novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One


A lot of people have lost a lot of people since we lost Yonatan. We’ve lost others since then, too, because another war broke out and everything got more savage. But more indifferent, too. And who’s got enough time on his hands to deal with what happened back then? When it broke out we lost Barnoy. Then another eleven guys. And when the numbers stabilized at nine hundred and twenty and it looked like it was over, we lost Koka’s brother, who’d followed in his footsteps and enlisted with us. We’ve made love a thousand times since then, it’s not like we haven’t, and we’ve laughed a thousand times. We went on to other places, we escaped and came back, we remembered. But quietly. We imagined how we’ll return to the fortress, to our mountain. There’ll be a hotel there, maybe. Or a place for lovers to park. Or maybe it will be deserted. There’ll be peace. And I will lead her along the paths, we’ll walk hand in hand. “Here, baby, this is exactly where it happened.” And stone by stone I’ll show her. She might even ask if that’s the whole story. “How can that be the whole story? What made you cry so much, it’s actually really beautiful and peaceful here, everything’s green with trees, and quiet. This is the place where you broke down?”

Try to imagine that they stick you high up on a mountain cliff, higher than the roof of the Azrieli Building. How could you not have a breathtaking view? Here it’s wide expanses of green countryside checkered with patches of brown and red, snowy mountains, frothing rivers, narrow, winding, deserted European roads, and the sweetest wind there is. Zitlawi used to say that air like this should be bottled and sold to rich people on the north side of Tel Aviv. Christ, what quality. So fucking pastoral you could cut the calm with a knife. Our sunsets, too, they’re the most beautiful on the planet, and the sunrises are even more beautiful, glimmering serenity from the roof of the world. Bring a girl or two here when the sky is orange and you’ve got it made. And dawn, an amazing cocktail of deep blue and turquoise and wine red and thin strips of pink, like an oil painting on canvas. And the deep wadi that twists away from the big rock we’re sitting on. Try to explain how this could be the place where you broke down.

But from that night I remember the lights of Kiryat Shmona, on the Israeli side of the border, as they recede on the horizon, and everyone’s beating hearts—I swear it, I can hear them as we make our way up to the top that very first time. And from minute to minute it’s getting colder. There’s not a living soul around except for us, practically not a single village in our zone, either. The convoy crawls along, gets swallowed up in a thick fog, there’s no seeing more than a hundred yards ahead. Tanks are spread along the road to provide cover for us. From a slit near the roof of the Safari I try to figure out how far along we’ve come, silently poring over the map of danger spots and racing through an abbreviated battle history, muttering because no talking is allowed. Where will the evil flare out from? I suddenly have the urge to shout to the commanding officer that we’ve gone too far, but I bite my lip and remain silent. From this moment on nobody can tell me anymore “You haven’t got a clue what Lebanon is, wait’ll you get there.” I’m there, finally, that’s what’s important. A long line, heavy traffic: a supply Safari, a GI Safari, a diesel Safari, behind these an ordnance truck with a big crane, an Abir truck carrying a doctor and a medic, another GI Safari, the commander’s Hummer, the lieutenant’s Hummer, and an Electronic Warfare Hummer. Oshri asks if I’ve brought my lucky underwear with me. I gesture to him that I’m wearing them. After all, our good fortune depends on my lucky underwear. I’m wearing them, even if that means thirty-two days without washing them.

And I remember how the gate of the outpost opens to let us in, how the Safari comes to a halt inside a cloud. Everyone grabs hold of whatever’s lying around—bags, equipment, your own or someone else’s—and runs like hell inside. The commanders curse under their breath—“Out of the vehicles, run, get a move on!”—and people go down, people come up, you’re not allowed to stand in place, you have to grab some shelter. When the parking area fills up with dozens of soldiers the enemy fires salvoes of mortar shells. And I try, but I can’t see anything, don’t recognize anyone around me, grab hold of the shirt of some soldier I don’t know and get pulled along after him. I’m thrown into a crowded maze, surrounded by thick concrete on all sides, long passageways with no entrance or exit, rooms leading to steep dead-end stairways, cul-de-sacs, and a collection of larger rooms lit up in red, with low ceilings and stretchers. Thirty seconds later I’m already in one of the bomb shelters, a long and narrow alcove, a kind of underground cavern with concave walls covered in rusting metal and cramped three-layer bunk beds hanging by heavy iron chains from the ceiling.

welcome to downtown someone has carved over the doorway, and inside the air is stuffy, suffocating, a stench of sweat overwhelms you again and again, in waves. This pit, called “the submarine,” is where my entire life will be taking place from now on. I consider a quick trip to the toilet. A seasoned sergeant tells me to follow the blue light to the end of the hall and take a right, but he informs me I’ll need a battle vest and a helmet. I decide to hold it in. What’s the matter, is there a war on or something? I’m really not in the mood to go up in smoke here right now. Back then it seemed like it was light-years away when all it was was thirty, forty feet, three green toilets with a graffiti welcome—i came, i saw, i conquered. julius caesar—and an official military sign commanding users do not leave pieces of shit on the toilet seat so there is never any chance of forgetting where you are living. And in the morning, with the first sunrise, as the view of Lebanon spreads out before us like an endless green ocean, our commanding officer makes his opening statement, which he has undoubtedly been rehearsing for weeks, maybe months, or maybe it has been handed down through the generations: “Welcome. If there is a heaven, this is what it looks like, and if there is a hell, this is how it feels. The Beaufort outpost.”

Once, Lila asked me what exactly Beaufort is and I thought how difficult it is to explain in words. You have to be there to understand, and even that’s not enough. Because Beaufort is a lot of things. Like any military outpost, Beaufort is backgammon, Turkish coffee, and cheese toasts. You play backgammon for cheese toasts, whoever loses makes them for everyone—killer cheese toasts with pesto. When things are really boring, you play poker for cigarettes. Beaufort is living without a single second of privacy, long weeks with the squad, one bed pushed up against the next, the ability to pick out the smell from every guy’s boots in your sleep. With your eyes closed and at any given moment being able to name the guy who farted by the smell alone. This is how true friendship is measured. Beaufort is lying to your mother on the phone so she won’t worry. You always say, “Everything’s great, I just finished showering and I’m off to bed,” when in fact you haven’t showered for twenty-one days, the water in the tanks has been used up, and in another minute you’re going up for guard duty. And not just any guard duty but the scariest position there is. When she asks when you’re coming home you answer in code. “Mom, you know the name of the neighbor’s dog? I’m out of here on the day that begins with the same letter.” What’s most important is to keep Hezbollah from listening in and figuring out when to bomb your convoy. You really want to tell her you love her, that you miss her, but you can’t, because your entire squad is there. If you say it you’ll be giving them ammunition for months, they’ll tear you apart with humiliation. And then there’s the worst situation of all: in the middle of a conversation with your mother the mortar shells start blowing up around you. She hears an explosion and then the line goes dead. She’s over there shaking, certain her kid’s been killed, waiting on the balcony for a visit from the army bereavement team. You can’t stop thinking about her, feeling sorry for her, but it might be days before the phone line to the command post can be reconnected. Worry. That’s the reason I preferred not to call at all. I told my mother I’d been transferred to a base right on the border, near the fence, Lebanon lite, not at all deep in—not way deep in Lebanon—so that she’d sleep at night. Gut feeling, you ask? She knew the truth the whole time, even if she won’t admit it to this day.

Beaufort is the Southern Lebanese Army, local Christians, a crazy bunch of Phalangists. Cigarettes in their mouths all day long. Smelly, wild, funny. They come in every morning at eight o’clock and we put a guard on them. They build, renovate whatever’s been destroyed by the air raids, do what they’re told. They’re not allowed inside the secure area, not even permitted near the dining room.

Beaufort is guard duty. Sixteen hours a day. How do you stay sane after thousands of dead hours? We’re all fucked up in different ways, just do me a favor and don’t choke it during guard duty. “Choke it” is our way of saying “jack off.” It’s not that there aren’t guys who choke it; they choke it big time. You won’t believe this b...

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