Book Review: Former Ottawan’s story of identity and family dysfunction set in 1992 Israel
By Michael Regenstreif
It is 1992 and Miriam Gil, a 20-year-old
university student is living at home in Ottawa with her widowed father, an Israeli
who moved to Canada before meeting his future wife, Miriam’s mother.
had died five years earlier in a car crash and now her father finally seems
ready to move on. He has invited his new girlfriend, Jacquie, to move in, but
the last thing Jacquie wants is to share a home with Miriam. Her father lets
Miriam know that it’s time for her to move out. Miriam, who has never been to
Israel, decides to transfer to Haifa University thus setting the stage for Passport
Control, a compelling story encompassing identity, politics, religion,
culture clash, family dysfunction, friendship and love in the Israel of almost
three decades ago. The book is written as Miriam’s first-person account of the
events in the story and her reactions to them.
Like her character
Miriam, Ottawa-born author Gila Green is the daughter of an Israeli father and
Canadian mother, although she graduated from Carleton University before moving
to Israel. She is also a graduate of Hillel Academy and Sir Robert Borden High
School. I reviewed her earlier novel, King of the Class, in the August
26, 2013 edition of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
Arriving at Haifa University, Miriam finds herself living with Jewish
Israeli students, a Druze, a Palestinian, and an American, some of whom don’t
get along well with each other. One of the Israeli roommates quickly lobbies
Miriam to sign a petition demanding that the Palestinian student be removed
from their quarters. At first, the idealistic Miriam resists signing a petition
she knows is motivated by nothing but prejudice, but eventually she acquiesces
– a deed for which she feels nothing but guilt.
She also reaches
out to her uncle, her father’s estranged younger brother. Spending Shabbat at
Uncle Moshe’s kibbutz, she is hurt and puzzled by the emotional distance, even
hostility, of Leah, Moshe’s wife, a highly placed Israeli bureaucrat.
(Eventually she learns the source of the hostility: Leah was her father’s first
wife and the marriage did not end well.)
During that Shabbat visit, Miriam meets and falls in love with Guy, a
student and former Israel Defense Forces soldier who yearns for peace with the
Palestinians. As the plot to Passport Control twists and turns, the love
affair with Guy becomes the most hopeful of the relationships Miriam will have
As the daughter of an Israeli studying in Israel, Miriam is advised to
get an Israeli passport. But her passport application is rejected when the
background check shows Miriam to be the daughter of a Syrian Christian mother
and unknown father – plunging Miriam into a bureaucratic nightmare that soon
leads to her expulsion from the university.
Amidst subplots involving Leah’s role in the sabotage of her identity,
and a tragic terrorist incident, the expelled Miriam finds herself in the crowded
streets of the Old City of Jerusalem with Valerie, her American student friend,
as throngs of Christian pilgrims mark Christmas Eve. Trying to make their way
to the Kotel, Miriam and Valerie get caught up in a brawl between Palestinians
and a group of Orthodox yeshiva students. While Miriam was roughed up in the
brawl, Valerie was stabbed to death.
When the initial
police check of Miriam’s identity again shows her to be Syrian Christian, she
briefly becomes a suspect in Valerie’s murder.
In a period of a
few short months, Miriam lives through difficult and complicated circumstances
that eventually reconcile through the ultimately repaired bond of daughter and
father and the imagined promise of a future with Guy. It’s a complicated story,
but Green is a skilled writer who weaves Passport Control into an
Gila Green will be at the Soloway
Jewish Communi ty Centre on Monday, September 16, 1 pm, for an author talk
presented by the Greenberg Families Library. Call 613-798-9818, ext. 245, for