Pumpkinflowers | Penguin Random House Canada
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An Israeli Soldier's Story

Publisher: Signal
Shortlisted for the 2016 Hilary Weston Writer's Trust Non-Fiction Prize

Shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction

Longlisted for the 2017 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction

Shortlisted for the 2017 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature

A New York Times Notable Book of 2016

A Globe and Mail Pick for Best Canadian Non-Fiction of 2016

From an award-winning Canadian-Israeli writer comes the true story of a band of young soldiers, the author among them, charged with holding one remote outpost in Lebanon, a task that changed them forever and foreshadowed today's unwinnable conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
It was small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples that continue to emanate worldwide today. The hill was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for "casualties." Friedman's visceral narrative recreates harrowing wartime experiences in a work that is part frontlines memoir, part
journalistic reporting, part military history. The years in question were pivotal ones, and not just for Israel. They saw the perfection of a type of warfare that would eventually be exported to Afghanistan and Iraq. The new twenty-first century war is one in which there is never any clear victor, and not enough lives are lost to rally the public against it. Eventually Israel would come to realize that theirs was a losing proposition and pull out. But, of course, by then these soldiers--those who had survived--and the country had been wounded in ways large and small. Raw, powerful, beautifully rendered, the book will take its place among classic war stories such as those by George Orwell, Philip Caputo, and Vasily Grossman. Pumpkinflowers is an unflinching look, like the works of Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger, at the way we conduct war today.


Nights on the hill were unusually long. They were inhabited by shadows flitting among boulders, by bushes that assumed human form, by viscous mists that crept in and thickened until all the sentries were blind. Sometimes you took over one of the guard posts, checked your watch an hour later, and found that five ...
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Praise for Pumpkinflowers:

"Pumpkinflowers is a stunning achievement . . . Evocative, emotionally wrenching and yet cleareyed and dispassionate, Matti Friedman's haunting war memoir reminds one of Michael Herr's unforgettable Vietnam memoir, Dispatches. It too is destined to become a classic text on the absurdities of war." —Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prizewinning biographer and New York Times bestselling author of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames

"Inspiring, heartbreaking, illuminating. Matti Friedman's brilliant account of a forgotten war seen through the lens of a simple soldier is at once a coming of age story and an essential chronicle about how the 21st century was born." —Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers

"In Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's Story Mr. Friedman has written a top-notch account of this under-analyzed war, persuasively arguing that it heralded a new style of combat in the Middle East, though no one knew it at the time. . . . Pumpkinflowers divides into four spare, elegantly written acts. . . . The most involving passages in Pumpkinflowers are not about politics. They are about Mr. Friedman's personal war stories. An infantryman's experience of battle is invariably at odds with the official record, which is linear, vectored, clear. But a truly fine war memoir." —New York Times

“Israelis have had their own preferred metaphor for their current situation: an isolated hilltop fortress in hostile territory, where a semblance of normal life persists within concrete barriers. In Pumpkinflowers, Matti Friedman’s sober and striking new memoir, this metaphor finds its sharpest articulation. . . . The collective portrait puts Pumpkinflowers on a par with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried – its Israeli analog.”  —New York Times

"Friedman . . . writes with great feeling and insight about the teenagers who died, were maimed, or were changed in profound ways while defending a patch of earth that the Israelis dubbed 'Pumpkin.'" —Christian Science Monitor

"This superb book is partly a history of the war, partly a personal memoir, and partly a work of political analysis. . . . Pumpkinflowers is rich enough to allow different readers to draw their own political conclusions. . . . Above all, it is a book about young men transformed by war, written by a veteran whose dazzling literary gifts gripped my attention from the first page to the last." —Wall Street Journal

"Friedman's Pumpkin in particular was characterized by roadside bombs, firefights captured on video. . . . All of this is captured in Friedman's stark, unflinching prose, and it's not for the faint of heart. . . . Throughout the telling of this journey, Friedman's prose – as direct as it is philosophical – shines the brightest." — Globe & Mail

"So many books cross my desk in a year. So many. And several of them are really good. . . . But it's relatively rare that you read something that stands above all of them. That you can't wait to get in hardcover and immediately add to your shelves. Pumpkinflowers is one of those books." —Andrew Taubman

"Pumpkinflowers is both searing and sobering. Friedman tugs at our feelings about nobility, absurdity, and tragedy by capturing mood and melancholy with the spare sketches of a gifted wartime correspondent." —Jewish Standard

is a sad, lyrical book—proud and fierce on its own terms. Friedman's prose is elegant and concise, yet it is studded with gems from the Talmud and Torah that only a writer deeply learned in the Jewish tradition could offer. His memoirs of his time in the mist and the mountains of Lebanon are full of haunting insights into what it means to be a soldier. It will be remembered as a classic." —Prospect Magazine

“Powerful account of youthful Israelis maturing, fighting, and dying at a forgotten Lebanon outpost. In this limber, deceptively sparse take on the Middle East's tightening spiral of violence, Friedman combines military history and personal experience on and off the line in deft, observant prose. The narrative is reminiscent of novels by Denis Johnson and Robert Stone, linking combat's violent absurdity to the traumatized perspectives of individual participants. A haunting yet wry tale of young people at war, cursed by political forces beyond their control, that can stand alongside the best narrative nonfiction coming out of Afghanistan and Iraq.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Remarkably educational and heartfelt: Friedman’s experiences provide a critical historical perspective on the changing climate of war in the Middle East, shifting from short official conflicts into longer unwinnable wars full of guerilla tactics and the deliberate creation of media narratives and images. His lyrical writing, attention to detail, and personal honesty draw the reader into empathy along with understanding. Friedman’s memoir deserves wide readership." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“. . . fast and engaging… A compelling war memoir containing elements of terror, observation, boredom, and grim (at times absurd) humor. This is an excellent read…” —Library Journal, starred review

“A compelling narrative, freighted with explosive geopolitical implications.” —Booklist, starred review

“Israelis have had their own preferred metaphor for their current situation: an isolated hilltop fortress in hostile territory, where a semblance of normal life persists within concrete barriers. In Pumpkinflowers, Matti Friedman’s ­sober and striking new memoir, this ­metaphor finds its sharpest articulation. . . . The collective portrait puts Pumpkinflowers on a par with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried – its Israeli analog.”  – New York Times