Shani Boianjiu’s debut novel is a gritty and funny coming-of-age story set in modern Israel called The People of Forever are Not Afraid.
The novel is about Lea, Avishag and Yae, three girls who recently turned 18 and, as is required of all Israeli citizens at that age, began their military service. The story follows them as their everyday experience is wrenched from the normal concerns of teenage girls – friends, boys, the future – to the demands of war, political factions and their own day-to-day survival.
The People of Forever are Not Afraid is told through a fragmented narrative, giving short glimpses into the girls’ time in the Israeli Defence Force. These fragments build up over the novel into an overall picture of their service, and how a life at war changes people, particularly in the formative years of their lives. Boianjiu’s prose reads with a weight of experience: understandably so, as she did her own time in the IDF before beginning her writing career.
The fragmented approach serves the novel well as it allows Boianjiu to cast a wide net over the experiences of her characters and bring a varied selection of moments to the fore. There are many aspects of military service here: long spells of boredom and routine punctuated by quick bursts of violence. On the other hand, there is also humour, flirting, posturing and friendship: the things you’d expect from 18 year old girls, even those wearing fatigues and carrying rifles.
Shani Boianjiu’s novel has been well recieved by critics and has made her the youngest recipient of the US National Book Foundation's 5 under 35 Award. Her work has been featured in The New Yorker and Vice magazine.
The People of Forever are Not Afraid was in the running for our 2013 First Book Award.