It’s been a long time coming, but I finally decided to read this book. I have a bad habit of purchasing books despite the size of my to-be-read pile, which never seems to stop growing. It should be no surprise that I bought Dinner at the Center of the Earth way back in 2017 despite only reading it in 2019.
I first encountered Nathan Englander’s writing when I read The Twenty-Seventh Man back in college. I liked the short story so much that I bought For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Since then, I never forgot the name. Come 2017, I found out that Green Apple Books on the Park was hosting a reading by Nathan Englander; I made it my mission to attend the event. After the reading, I shamelessly asked him to sign a book and to take a picture with me as I embarrassed myself with my fangirling. It was worth it.
Dinner at the Center of the Earth goes back and forth between 2002 and 2014, chronicling the experiences of several characters and how they were affected by the Gaza conflict. The book was more about personal experiences than the conflict itself, so it was quite easy to follow the story despite knowing very little of the conflict.
There are several characters involved, and throughout the story, all of their actions had been tied to the orders of the General (most clearly demonstrated by Prisoner Z’s imprisonment). It only took twelve years and some horrific events, but, by the end of the book, the characters have taken back control over their own lives. I felt a certain satisfaction that it ended in the characters’ own terms, even the General’s.
There’s a quite the history to go through before we even get to that point though. The chapters switch off across different characters at different moments in their lives, and at first, this comes off as choppy. The story gets a bit confusing to follow, mainly because the story lines and identities turn around pretty quickly, but don’t let that discourage you from reading on. Eventually, everything comes together as we learn more about the characters, and it’s all worth it.
I love a good book.