What the critics are saying about Jeffrey Goldberg’s Prisoners

Cover of Prisoners: A Muslim & A Jew Across the Middle East Divide, by Jeffrey Goldberg

Buy Prisoners from Amazon.comMore about Prisoners

“Realization of the humanity of the ‘other’ is at the heart of New Yorker magazine correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg’s sharply observed and beautifully written memoir Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide. The journalist offers a bracingly clear-eyed, deeply emotional and often humorous account of his life as an American Jew in love with Israel. As he navigates the country’s endlessly complex realities, the narrative follows the arc of a love story: a lustful infatuation, the shock of reality and finally the mature acceptance of a nuanced bond. ‘Prisoners’ offers no easy answers but manages to inspire the rarest of commodities in the Middle East: hope.”
    — The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 29, 2006

“Mr. Goldberg, a talented and ambitious writer for the New Yorker who immigrated to Israel two decades ago and served briefly in its army before moving back to the United States, takes an engagingly personal approach to the issue in his story of a quest for mutual understanding with a Palestinian activist who had been his prisoner. His narrative scope is wider than that one story; Mr. Goldberg has reported thoughtfully and bravely from Israel, the Palestinian areas, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. But he uses his years-long debate with the ex-prisoner, Rafiq Hijazi, as a touchstone. That turns out to be quite revelatory, for what we learn not only of Palestinians like Mr. Hijazi but of Jews like Mr. Goldberg… the final encounter between Mr. Hijazi and Mr. Goldberg has a poignancy and power that bar utter despair. For the bittersweet complexity of that moment, offered in the context of all that has preceded it, this is a genuinely admirable book.”
    — The New York Times, Oct. 28, 2006

“Goldberg’s prison experience and the friendship he managed to forge across the barbed wire with one of the inmates, a Fatah activist and mathematics whiz from Gaza named Rafiq Hijazi, form the foundation of his brilliant new book, Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide. The book is, on one level, an intensely personal coming-of-age story, tracing Goldberg’s progress from secular Jewish student in New York to Israeli soldier to war correspondent. But it is also perhaps the best on-the-ground portrait since Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem of the hatreds, passions, and illusions gripping the contemporary Middle East. Goldberg’s journey through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza, and Israel during the period immediately before and after 9/11 provides disturbing insights into the abyss separating Arab and Jew, East and West—if not a clash of civilizations, Goldberg suggests, than a perhaps unbridgeable gulf of empathy and understanding… Those familiar with his work for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine will recognize the skills that have made him one of America’s finest foreign correspondents.”
    — The Washington Monthly, Dec., 2006

“Jeffrey Goldberg’s wonderful new book, Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide… is a rich, large-hearted and melancholy political bildungsroman… The book takes us into a vertiginous moral universe in which victims and oppressors keep switching places and liberal universalism collides with tribal loyalties. It’s a fascinating tour through recent Israeli history… Mr. Goldberg has interviewed everyone, and most of the region’s big players, including Arafat, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak and Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz Rantisi, make appearances. The author has a novelistic gift for conjuring the optimism of the Oslo era, which makes the nihilistic nosedive of the second Intifada even more searing. But while Prisoners is a story of multiple disenchantments, there’s a defiant hopefulness about it—a faith, despite too much evidence to the contrary, that individual human understanding can transcend historic hatreds.”
    — The New York Observer, Oct. 9, 2006

Prisoners is Jeffrey Goldberg’s sensitive, forthright and perceptive account of his years as a soldier and journalist in Israel—and of his long-running conversation with a Palestinian whom he once kept under lock and key. It is a forceful reminder of how rewarding, and how difficult, discourse between Israelis and Palestinians can be.”
    — The Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2006

Prisoners… is a book that will make purists and other fundamentalists squirm, even if many of us dream of a neat and tidy world, or a world with solutions… [Prisoners’] structure seems to echo the one used in ‘The Arabian Nights,’ as Goldberg opens up story within story, reveals mystery within mystery, keeping the reader moving deeper into personal and world history… [it] is at turns fascinating, hilarious, terrifying and sometimes bizarre… The journey is riveting and well wrought in a book that makes clear the confusing mess that is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict… Goldberg’s ability to write well, with a prose style that is colloquial, revealing and, at turns, painfully and hilariously honest, makes this story that much more important.”
    — The Chicago Tribune, Dec. 31, 2006

“A funny, observant writer with incredible contacts in Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the governments of Israel and Palestine, Goldberg has written unforgettable pieces for The New Yorker. In one, after having the naive temerity to penetrate a radical madrassa in Afghanistan, he described a teacher who gave a particularly chilling rant about the scourge of the Jews. Goldberg piped up, cheerfully informing his hosts, ‘I’m Jewish.’ … His focus on the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, and his careful parsing of the topic, is more compelling than ever. So is his quest for peace.”
    — The Progressive, Dec. 2006

“(Goldberg) has written a lucid, richly layered memoir… Goldberg’s pitch is perfect when he writes about Rafiq Hijazi, the Muslim of the book’s title. The story of their unusual and complicated friendship is at the core of ‘Prisoners,’ weaving its way through the narrative like a serpentine question mark. ‘Prisoners’ tells us, eloquently, the complete and complex story of Jeffrey Goldberg’s love for Israel.”
    — The New York Times Book Review, Nov. 12, 2006

“For too long, the Middle East conflict has been about road maps and dead ends, old grievances and new outrages. It is a conflict where clarity is but one more illusion, where myth and history often trump the real heartbreaking story, the one where people yearn, yet fail to break free from the endless cycle of violence. And then, a wondrous book like this comes along, offering not just hope, but a version of truth that sounds about right because it is shaded with so much gray… Jeffrey Goldberg—American, Zionist, soldier for Israel and journalist of unparalleled ability for The New Yorker—brings together all of his skills and humanity to tell a simple story awfully well.”
    — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 14, 2006

“It is a raw book, full of honest and ugly reactions as well as considered reflection… Goldberg has written a valuable book—poignant, occasionally funny, frequently sad, and always honest. It will also doubtless be praised as hopeful.”
    — San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 29, 2006

“A brave and relentlessly honest memoir… What he gives us is descriptive rather than prescriptive, an intimate portrait of the conflict as it plays out in the minds of two men. Not the politics and history that separate Arab from Jew, but what, sadly, happens or doesn’t happen underneath the skin.”
    — The Forward, Oct. 27, 2006

Prisoners is a real pleasure… the book is so personal and so rich in detail that only reading it in full can do it justice.”
    — Slate Magazine, Oct., 2006

“There is no shortage of histories, polemics and policy manuals about the Middle East. An honest but complex story, from what happens to be a personal perspective that many Americans can at least conjure, is a rarer opportunity for insight. And that is what Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter for The New Yorker, delivers in Prisoners. To those of us who have followed Jeffrey Goldberg’s reporting on the Muslim world, the publication of his first book is cause for real pleasure… because his writing on the subject has always been exceptional: wise, unpretentious, and at times, unexpectedly funny.”
    — CBS News, Oct. 31, 2006

“Goldberg’s sensitive portrayal of the nuances of his freighted relationship… gives soul and depth to Prisoners, a vivid account of the passions and prejudices, the tensions and terrors that exist in every camp, and every household, in today’s volatile Middle East.”
    — O: The Oprah Magazine

Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew across the Middle East Divide is Goldberg’s magnificent personal history of his journey from zealous Long Island Zionist to embittered Israeli soldier and his struggle to reconcile his American and Israeli identities. For 10 years a Middle East correspondent for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, previously a Jerusalem Post columnist and currently The New Yorker’s Washington correspondent, Goldberg, a self-described counterphobe, has presented himself undisguised as a Zionist and Jew to many of the region’s most important, colorful and fearsome characters… Through vivid encounters with such former prisoners as Fatah leader Jibril Rajoub (the translator of Block Four’s most popular book, Menachem Begin’s The Revolt) and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader later assassinated by Israel, Prisoners tells the riveting tale of a conflict that has, according to Goldberg, been transformed from one between Palestinians and Israelis in the first intifada to one between Muslims and Jews in the second.”
    — The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 2, 2006

“Goldberg escapes predictability by tunneling past received notions and antique resentments. By dint of tireless reporting he goes to places that bias or maybe even good sense would place off limits for others… There are plenty of moments in Prisoners that are simply chilling. Surprisingly, the violence is not always the most disturbing material. Those moments come when Goldberg is welcomed with the elaborate courtesies familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the hospitality of Muslims in the Middle East—only to have the Koran’s most vehemently anti-Jewish verses quoted at him. With a smile… More than once I found myself wondering whether Rafiq ever thought that Goldberg’s pursuit of his friendship was in some ways a second imprisonment. But each time I would find a reason to be grateful for Goldberg’s relentlessness. He pushes past the comfortable levels of engagement. If friendship is to be a solution, he argues, it can’t be founded on ignoring fundamental differences. I ended up caring because I could tell Goldberg wasn’t doing this on the cheap.”
    — The St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 24, 2006

“Mr. Goldberg has emerged, at the New York Times Magazine and then the New Yorker, where he is now the Washington correspondent, as one of the finest journalists of his generation. His first book, Prisoners… is such a wonderful memoir. It is being blurbed as offering a ray of hope in the gloom of the Middle East. But its real thrill is for the story it tells of an American Jewish life, all the more remarkable for the fact that it’s not yet half finished. The liberation, the empowerment that the young Mr. Goldberg felt on reaching the Jewish state, is something that millions have shared but few have written about with a more engaging combination of eloquence and humor… What Mr. Goldberg has done is establish his reputation as one of the most eloquent narrators of the struggle in which new leaders arise in every generation.”
    — The New York Sun, Oct. 16, 2006