What happens when a young man is caught between what is usually described as the "two sides" in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, between love of country and love for life and humanity, between faith and friendship? In lyrical prose and first person narration Sadness is a White Bird is constructed through memories and something like a confessional letter. We follow Jonathan, a 19 year old newly trained American-Israeli soldier in the IDF struggling with his place in this conflict, in a land of turmoil, faith, and history, grappling with his identity as a Jewish soldier with Arab friends. Rothman-Zechner does not simplify or even make clear the dichotomy that seems so inherent to everyone else in Jonathan's life, and thus make the reader choose sides, just as Jonathan is unable to do.
Rothman- Zechner allows for there to be ambiguity and multiple perspectives: how we feel, who we love, and where our loyalties lie- these are not always so clear. The reader is urged to think about if surviving past horrors justify the shift from victim and oppressed to oppressor.
This is the kind of book that haunts you after you have returned it to the library, in part because it is not so easily categorized as anti-this or pro-that. Not only does Rothman-Zechner approach the the topic of the conflict between these two states but he does so through the interweaving of three languages in the prose, through Jonathan's fluid sexuality, and the variety of literary formats within the novel itself.
This book is recommended to readers that appreciate a well-researched, thoughtful, and beautifully written coming of age story that asks more questions than it answers.