Black Elephants: A Memoir

Overview


An aspiring writer and reporter, Karol Nielsen went trekking through the Peruvian Andes at the height of the Shining Path terror, looking for adventure and a good story. She found Aviv, an Israeli traveler fresh out of his mandatory military service—a war-weary veteran of the first intifada—dreaming about peace. Black Elephants follows this idealistic pair as they explore the Americas, until Aviv, inexorably drawn to his homeland, asks Karol to come with him to Israel. There, the couple’s lovingly laid plans—for...
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Black Elephants: A Memoir

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Overview


An aspiring writer and reporter, Karol Nielsen went trekking through the Peruvian Andes at the height of the Shining Path terror, looking for adventure and a good story. She found Aviv, an Israeli traveler fresh out of his mandatory military service—a war-weary veteran of the first intifada—dreaming about peace. Black Elephants follows this idealistic pair as they explore the Americas, until Aviv, inexorably drawn to his homeland, asks Karol to come with him to Israel. There, the couple’s lovingly laid plans—for Aviv to attend university, and for Karol to work on a kibbutz, study Hebrew, and get to know his family—are suddenly tested by the eruption of the first Gulf War. Nielsen’s memoir paints a poignant and harrowing picture of love during wartime. Against a backdrop of bursting bombs and air-raid sirens, gas masks and sealed rooms, relationships are frayed, and romance becomes a distant memory. This story, so candidly and clearly told, powerfully illustrates the terror, loneliness, and absurdity of war and its invisible casualties.
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Editorial Reviews

Sonya Huber

“Karol Nielsen presents a complex love story for our time, one that plumbs the depths of war and terror while exploring the impact of violence on the human psyche and relationships. Black Elephants is forthright, searching, wistful, and full of heart.”—Sonya Huber, author of Opa Nobody
Kaylie Jones

“Impeccably researched and luminous in its attention to detail, this memoir is a devastating memorial to peace.” —Kaylie Jones, author of Lies My Mother Never Told Me
Michael Soussan

“In a world that continues to bleed from the wounds of intolerance, here comes a love story with the power to heal.”—Michael Soussan, author of Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy
Kirkus Reviews

A poetic and painful debut memoir about a young marriage filled with idealism and adventure that unravels under the pressure of daily life in Israel during the first Gulf War.

Nielsen (Memoir Writing/New York Univ.) grows weary when people assume her marriage ended because of differences over religion, nationality and culture; she asserts that she and her husband were prepared for those challenges. Nielsen, who was raised in Connecticut by her Christian Scientists parents, and Aviv, an Israeli atheist with Romanian-born parents, met in Peru. Nielsen was traveling after quitting her reporting job in Buenos Aires, Aviv doing the same after completing his mandatory military service. The two reunited in New York, where they continued to develop a loving relationship. When Aviv proposed to her, Nielsen moved to Israel to get to know his family and country during the engagement while he finished school and she worked on a kibbutz; they planned to return to New York for the wedding and for Nielsen to start graduate school. Missile attacks from Iraq, however, were not part of the plan. The threat of chemical and biological warfare made them quick experts on assembling gas masks and preparing atropine injectors. Aviv buried himself in his work, while Nielsen's loneliness was exacerbated by her new in-laws' stoic approach to war. Certain passages and anecdotes feel forced into the main narrative, and Nielsen indulges in explaining the meaning of her memoir in the final chapter, but on the whole her prose is appealing and adept.

A memorable read that captures the hopefulness of falling in love and traces its sad trajectory into quiet terror amid the chaos of war and its aftermath.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803235373
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2011
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Karol Nielsen has contributed to Smith Magazine’s The Moment anthology and other publications, including the New York Times, New York Newsday, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Guernica, Lumina, and Epiphany—before she became nonfiction editor of the magazine. Excerpts from this memoir were selected as Notable Essays in The Best American Essays. Her poetry collection was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry. She teaches memoir writing at New York University.
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