This was an incredibly dense book which makes it very hard for me to review - I reserve the right to add to this post once I've partaken in my book club discussion about it. I did enjoy the book - I just found I could only read it in small doses since it was so heavy - it took me much longer to finish than books this size normally do.
The story is set in a small rural village prior to the creation of the State of Israel. The community consists of eastern European immigrants intent on farming the harsh land. It is told from the perspective of Baruch, the grandson of one of the original settlers. Baruch himself is an odd man. Orphaned as a child, he is raised by his grandfather and his best friends are the old men who surround his grandfather. After his grandfather's death, in accordance with his dying wishes, he buries him in his own farmland thus starting a lucrative cemetery reserved for immigrants of the same era as his grandfather (even if they later abandoned the land for "greener pastures" in the US and only return on death - for a large fee). Baruch slowly tells us the story of his grandparents, their friends, his parents, aunts and uncles as well as other descendants of the original settlers who comprise the village. The tales are woven so complexly that it took me many chapters to figure out one of the characters was a mule not a person - I'm not sure if this was a deliberate creation of the author or I just missed something.
Through the lives of these few settlers, Shalev clearly demonstrates the optimism of Eastern European immigrants to what is now Israel, their disillusionment in the face of enormous obstacles and the changes to Israel that have resulted.
I recommend this book but warn that it requires enormous concentration.