When I Was a Soldier

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What is it like to be a young woman in a war?

At a time when Israel is in the news every day and politics in the Middle East are as complex as ever before, this story of one girl's experience in the Israeli national army is both topical and fascinating. Valerie begins her story as she finishes her exams, breaks up with her boyfriend, and leaves for service with the Israeli army. Nothing has prepared her for the strict routines, grueling marches, poor food, lack of sleep and ...

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2007-01-23 Paperback New 1599900599 Ships Within 24 Hours. Tracking Number available for all USA orders. Excellent Customer Service. Upto 15 Days 100% Money Back Gurantee. Try ... Our Fast! ! ! ! Shipping With Tracking Number. Read more Show Less

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What is it like to be a young woman in a war?

At a time when Israel is in the news every day and politics in the Middle East are as complex as ever before, this story of one girl's experience in the Israeli national army is both topical and fascinating. Valerie begins her story as she finishes her exams, breaks up with her boyfriend, and leaves for service with the Israeli army. Nothing has prepared her for the strict routines, grueling marches, poor food, lack of sleep and privacy, or crushing of initiative that she now faces. But this harsh life has excitement, too, such as working in a spy center near Jerusalem and listening in on Jordanian pilots. Offering a glimpse into the life of a typical Israeli teen, even as it lays bare the relentless nature of war, Valerie's story is one young readers will have a hard time forgetting.

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Editorial Reviews

Israel is a country that expects something from its young people: Both young men and women must participate in national military service once they are eighteen. Valerie Zenatti moved to Israel from France when she was thirteen. This memoir chronicles the eighteen-year-old author's time in the Israeli Army. A girl who thinks for herself, questions reality, and sees the poetry in life, Zenatti has a difficult transition. She is separated from her family, friends, and the casual student life she is used to. Once in the military she is issued a uniform and expected to conform, and her time is no longer her own-what she does and when she does it is all determined for her. Eventually she needs the help of Army psychologists to counsel her through her Army experience. But she ultimately adapts and learns to fire an Uzi, wash endless dishes, and obey orders without questions. She completes her two years of national service working in military intelligence. Zenatti is a typical older youth in a situation that most American teens will never experience. Written in a casual style, this intimate account of Zenatti's responses to her new situation is not a detailed depiction of military life. She includes the anguish of breaking up with her boyfriend and her first tentative steps away from the friends who shared her teen years. This book could generate discussions about the idea of national service, Israel, and the Middle East, and cultural similarities and differences among teens. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005 (orig. 2002), Bloomsbury, 250p., Ages 15 to 18.
—Tina Frolund
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-In this compelling memoir, Zenatti, first among her group of friends to be called for compulsory military service, chronicles two years of growing up in the Israeli army between 1988 and 1990. With teen self-absorption, she describes the end of her high school years, her initial excitement with the uniform and gun, and grueling training. At first overwrought and pretentious, her voice matures as she continues her course, suffers an anxiety attack, and is posted to a security listening post. As Zenatti grows away from her old friends and a former boyfriend, she becomes more aware and open to the ideas, interests, and needs of others-even, eventually, to the Palestinians who share her country. It is true, as adults told her, "The army changes everything." Although immersed in the country and the experience at the time, Zenatti retains her outsider perspective. French by origin, she and her family emigrated to Beersheva when she was 13, where she learned Hebrew. Her love of language shines through, and the translation, though undeniably British, is smooth. Journal entries in italics are interspersed with the present-tense narrative. This is a fascinating glimpse of a different part of the world and a different kind of experience. Older readers, facing the end of high school themselves, will be drawn to this description of the interim between childhood and adulthood that is a universal Israeli experience.-Kathleen Isaacs, formerly at Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The theme of compulsory military service for both men and women in Israel makes this author's memoir unusual. Although no reason is given, her family has recently emigrated from France and her friends are from the former Soviet bloc, so there is no family experience with the draft. She recalls the months before beginning her two-year enlistment as she and her friends face school tests, dating, sex and the unknown world of wearing a uniform. She is sympathetic to the Palestinians except when it comes to giving back any of Jerusalem, but like many non-religious Jews, she is definitely not sympathetic to observant Jews and makes no mention of their alternatives to military service. She describes her military service years filled with training, bus rides across Israel, special missions and chasing after a boyfriend in Jerusalem who has moved on to a new lover. There is, by the conclusion of her military stint, a growth in character-and the arrogance of those who are younger and believe they are smarter than the previous generation gives way to an appreciation of the work done by the army. Recommended for its different perspective on life in contemporary Israel. (Nonfiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781599900599
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 1/23/2007
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 240
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.33 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Valerie Zenatti was born in Nice on April Fool's Day, 1970. When she was thirteen, she went to live with her parents in Israel. Her experiences with national service inspired When I Was a Soldier. Even now, she doesn't go anywhere without her survival kit—which these days includes a book, a notepad, and a pen. She currently lives with her two children in Paris, where she works as a translator of Hebrew.

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Customer Reviews

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( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2010


    This story is called "When I was a soldier" by Valerie Zenatti. It's about a girl who originaly was raised in france but she moved to Isreal with her parents. Every teenager at age 18, when done with school, go into the military. So before they turn 18, they need to be organized and have their beds done when ever waking up. Also they need to be asked only once to do something. Basically they have to act as if they were already in the military. She is bright and loves to read and write. She feels that she has alot of preasure on her because being a soldier has more responsibilities and she does'nt want to screw anything up. Her best friends are two russian immagrants, Yulia and Rahel. Before going into the military her boyfriend breaks up with her. I think it is amazing that she could even do that because she has to leave her friends and her boyfriend just dumped her and now she has to go into the military. They believe that if the boys and girls serve two years they will become real men and women. In the end she lives happy and feels like a true woman. I kind of liked this story because I feel like its the other side of Anne Franks story.

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  • Posted April 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    **** Do you like a descriptive, engaging read?

    The memoir, When I was a Soldier by Vålerie Zenatti it was a great book and kept me reading. This book really came out and told you the difference, feelings, emotions inside and out for Vålerie as a soldier. The overwhelming life changes and conflicts that Vålerie is going through is a big change for her. She is going to soldier camp training with no friends or family beside her, and doesn't know much about the life ahead of her. At the beginning of the book she is what seems like a normal teenage girl living a normal life with normal friends. But just as you begin to read on, you see her near future unravel pretty quickly.

    This book is a good read for girls into a reality story from the ages 10 and up. I would rate this 4 stars. Because it is a descriptive, detailed, and engaging read but it has a few confusing word choices. In my opinion, this book is an overall great learning experience for Vålerie, as well as for the reader. With the detail and description the author provides you with, you feel her pain and excitement as she is going on in her life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2008

    A book for all ages

    When I was a Soldier by Valerie Zenatti was a very different book than I¿m used to reading, most books about war are filled with action and heroism, but this book was totally different. The memoir doesn¿t focus on battles and fighting, it revolves around a girl soldier in `peacetime¿. It begins with her just getting through high school and taking a test called the `Bac¿, which are a series of test not unlike our finals for high school. What it isn¿t clear whether or not Valerie had to do military service but was excited about it, or if she wanted to do it willingly regardless. When I was a soldier was definitely intended for young people or teenagers and without doubt was meant for a foreign audience and not for those that live in Israel because it gives an idea of what it would be like for a foreigner immigrating there. In fact it gives an outsiders experience of the situation. What¿s more is the fact that Valerie herself is an outsider being a French Jew it gives her a somewhat complex relationship to her Israeli identity and nationality. It is not surprising that Valerie struggles to come to terms with many of Israel's most daunting political and social problems, such as its relationship to the Palestinian people. Many times throughout the book she repeatedly questions what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians although she is enthusiastic about her job in the military where, ironically her job involves monitoring them in a secret outpost. When I Was A Soldier is most powerful when it manages to examine these difficult issues for their emotional weight on a girl entering adulthood, and not in terms of their general political importance. Although the teenage aspect makes the book easier to relate with the fact that it¿s a teenage girl gives it a different spin on situations, which could probably do with less dramatization, nonetheless this book is filled with situations that I can relate to such as being in high school and just dreaming of where and when I will get to basic training and then where I will be posted after. What¿s more what Valerie goes through faces many young people today and I would definitely recommend this book to them. Apart from the relationship that the reader can have between reader and main character about the teenage years When I Was A Soldier also touches base on the truth about life when it comes to friends and family, and that is the separation of the two. Even today military families are strained due to one or even two family members drifting apart as a result of war, being shipped to Iraq Afghanistan and other war zones. Valerie even points out that her friends don¿t seem to be so close anymore rarely hearing from each other, this coupled with her rigorous course at the secret service base where no one was allowed to even talk about it lead Valerie to have some kind of a panic attack that they would not tell he why she he had it, even after her superiors kept pushing her to her limits. All of us have had parents and can at one time or another relate to what Valerie was going through, having someone pushing you to get better grades, to run faster, or become stronger. Being challenged is good, but there must be a limit somewhere, I felt a little disgusted at the way the commanding officers push only one person in the entire unit singling her out and pushing her to the brink. There is one significant reason I liked this book and it is also the reason I chose it, on the back cover it tells that girls and boys or in this case men and women are equals even if they don¿t receive the same training, but that doesn¿t matter in a job the most qualified person gets the job done, gender has no say in who is chosen for a position and it is demonstrated in Valerie¿s post where there are male and female officers ordering other male or female enlisted of lower rank. This is definitely a must read book for anyone not just for young adults.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2007

    Gloriously Captivating

    This book is about a French woman named Valerie who is being recruited in a military. It includes her memoirs and her life meeting new people and some old friends. I found it quiet enjoyable and it was a page-turner. If you enjoy reading memories, this book is splendid. I could really relate myself to various of her situations. This book made me laugh and cry. I enjoyed it enormously. Something I don't think was too amazing was the title. I don't think it was deep enough for this book. It wasn't very effective when it came to hooking the reader. A reader usually judges a book by its cover, no matter what anyone and/or everyone else says. The title is a very vital piece, and must be chosen wisely. A reader wants to see the title and be amused by it, but for When I Was a Soldier, the reader should read what it is about. When I saw this book, I really liked the cover, and I found the half-face amusing, and I decided to read it. While reading this novel, I found many strong vocabulary words, and some that could help me in school. Many times, these words were in French, and would fascinate me, as I love foreign language. This story has many good aspects: the cover, vocabulary, and the content which were all amazingly fantastic. I definantly recommend this book to the ages 12 and up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2007


    This book was great! It is a very interesting and fun to read. Once you start you can't stop, really.

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