Nonfiction, Algonquin, 2016
PUMPKINFLOWERS is the true story of a small group of soldiers, including the author, who are sent to secure an isolated hilltop in hostile territory and are changed forever by the experience.
Matti Friedman's second work of non-fiction is about coming of age in a world of complexity and contradiction. It recounts dramatic but forgotten events during the 1990s at the Pumpkin, a small military outpost in Lebanon. The book traces the lives of a cadre of young men, against the backdrop of a bewildering and changing Middle East. In the spirit of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, PUMPKINFLOWERS is a brilliant writer’s effort to make sense of a peculiar and fraught military conflict, and to assess its historical importance – not only as a force that shaped a generation of Israelis but also as a paradigm for the other contemporary Middle East wars.
Told with power and grace, and with a sensitivity not just to tragedy but also to the bizarre and even comic sides of armed conflict, PUMPKINFLOWERS represents a new generation of non-fiction writing from Israel, and a new voice from a country so often talked about but so rarely understood.
Friedman's first book, The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World's Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books, won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize, the ALA's Sophie Brody Medal, and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for history, and was a finalist for the Religion Newswriters Association book award. It has been translated into eight languages.
Canada: Random House; China: Citic; Israel: Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir; USA: Algonquin; UK: Robson Press/Biteback
Film rights: PIE Films
“Ignore the politics for a while – and Friedman generally does – to read something justly compared to All Quiet on the Western Front… I cannot neatly classify this book into a genre. Instant classic might be the closest…unlike the gung-ho style of books like American Sniper, this has all the marks of a timeless book about war, armies, and the ordinary citizens that hand over their sons to them.” - 5 Star Goodread
“Pumpkinflowers is a stunning achievement . . . Evocative, emotionally wrenching and yet clear-eyed 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 Prize-winning biographer and New York Times bestselling author of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
"Riveting. Pumpkinflowers is both an historical jigsaw puzzle and an examination of Israel’s fraught national identity. Friedman recounts an almost forgotten moment in Israel’s long entanglement with her neighbors, managing to illuminate the confusion at the heart of the conflict as well as chillingly echo America’s own slide into prolonged wars in the Middle East." – Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone
“Matti Friedman’s requiem to youth and family and soldiering hits the mark to which all of us aspire. This book broke my heart.” – Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows
“Sober and striking… The collective portrait puts Pumpkinflowers on a par with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried — its Israeli analog.” – Gal Beckerman, The New York Times
“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, if they choose to draw them at all. 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.” – Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal
“Writing out of a surprising sense of gratitude, Friedman gives thanks for what he learned by serving in the late 1990s as an Israeli soldier assigned to a vulnerable hilltop fortress in Lebanon called the Pumpkin … the Pumpkin repeatedly exposed realities hidden behind conventional boundaries… Readers marvel, for instance, at how battlefield events dissolve beneath the illusion of media images captured by a Hezbollah cameraman... Even the hard division pitting Israeli against Arab softens … A compellingly narrative, freighted with explosive geopolitical implications.” — Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
“[T]he book is 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)
“The narrative is reminiscent of novels by Denis Johnson and Robert Stone … 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 (starred review)
"A compelling war memoir containing elements of terror, observation, boredom, and grim (at times absurd) humor. This is an excellent read for anyone interested in military memoirs or biographies, war reporting, and the modern Middle East.” – Benjamin Brudner, Curry Coll. Lib., Milton, MA
“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