Monday, August 10, 2015

Making Peace, Making Music, Making History

I've just finished two books written by excellent and accomplished journalists.  Both books (Children of the Stone and Thirteen Days in September) tell complicated, human, painful stories.  Both address the most troubling dimensions of conflict in the Middle East.  In the end, both find real people who are creative, passionate and flexible enough to serve peace and imagine justice in a trying environment.  Their choices are mixed, their motives tangled sometimes, their efforts uneven.  Still they make a contribution to the common good.  Still their lives point to something so much more than division, retribution and fear.
Lawrence Wright's latest book is Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.  The project started as a play, exploring the dynamic of the 1978 summit at Camp David.  It's evolved into a marvelous book, exploring not only the three leaders, but their stories, motivations, mistakes and achievements.  There's so much here, including important profiles of Begin, Moshe Dayan and Sadat.  But I came away with particular appreciation for Carter's role at Camp David...and his many frustrations along the way.  This kind of peacemaking is hard work, and challenging in just about every way.  Wright invites us into that process.   Along the way, we see where Camp David might have made an even more significant contribution, and how decades of conflict impose a kind of paralysis on whole nations. Like Wright, Sandy Tolan is a profoundly thorough journalist with a long record of great writing.  In Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land, his footnoting alone is an impressive act of integrity and intellectual rigor.  Tolan tells the story of children growing up in the West Bank, under occupation, and their efforts to change their situation through music.  Along the way, I was reminded over and over again of the musicians I know and their dedication to the formation of young lives.  In Tolan's book, it's more than obvious how powerfully music shapes lives and how empowering it is.  The children profiled in Children of the Stone do not find in music an escape, intellectual or otherwise, but a strategy for resistance.  It's an inspiring story about inspiring people.  And how hard it is to live that way, day after day, year after year, generation after generation.
While telling a story about the power of music and the role of music in the lives of young people, Tolan also gets into concerns like violence and nonviolence in an occupied land; the role of economic movements in advancing change; the different approaches of Palestinian and Israeli activists.  His writing is honest, not glossy; and he opens our eyes (and hearts, I'd say) to the struggling of Palestinian young people.

If you're looking for an August read that challenges the mind and opens the heart, I'd enthusiastically recommend both books and both authors.  This is journalism, story-telling, at its best.  In particular, I want to urge my many musician-friends to read Children of the Stone.  Read it and appreciate what you do!