BOOK REVIEW: Who by Fire: War, Atonement, and the Resurrection of Leobnard Cohen by Matti Friedman

58916252Title: Who by Fire: War, Atonement, and the Resurrection of Leonard Cohen

Author: Matti Friedman

Audiobook Length: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography, Music

Read Start Date: March 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 31, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The incredible never-before-told story of Leonard Cohen’s 1973 tour of Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

“Who by Fire is a stunning resurrection of a moment in the life of Leonard Cohen and the history of Israel. It’s the story of a young artist in crisis and a young country at war, and the powerful resonance of the chord struck between them. A beautiful, haunting book full of feeling.” —Nicole Krauss, author of To Be a Man

In October, 1973, the poet and singer Leonard Cohen – 39 years old, famous, unhappy, and at a creative dead end – traveled to the Sinai desert and inserted himself into the chaos and bloodshed of the Yom Kippur War. Moving around the front with a guitar and a pick-up team of local musicians, Cohen dived headlong into the midst of a global crisis and met hundreds of fighting men and women at the worst moment of their lives. His audiences heard him knowing it might be the last thing they heard, and those who survived never forgot what they heard.

Cohen’s war tour was an electric cultural moment, one that still echoes today, and one that inspired some of his greatest songs – but a moment that only few knew about, until now. In Who By Fire, Canadian-Israeli journalist Matti Friedman gives us a riveting account of what happened during those weeks in Israel in October, 1973. With access to amazing and never-before-seen material written by Cohen himself, along with dozens of interviews and rare photographs, Friedman revives this fraught and stunning time, presenting an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the artist, and of the young people who heard him sing in the midst of combat.

Who By Fire brings us close to one the greatest, most brilliant and charismatic voices of our times, and gives us a rare glimpse of war, faith, and belonging.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t really know much about Leonard Cohen before reading this book, so I had no idea he had also spent some time in Israel during the Yom Kippur war in October of 1973. To be honest, I’m not even really a fan of his music, but thought the subject of the book seemed interesting, as I didn’t really remember anything about this particular war from school.

After reading this book, I don’t have any warm or fuzzy feelings about Leonard Cohen. He seemed to have gone to Israel because he just didn’t have anything else to do — or in other words, he was at a cross roads in his life, and he thought what better way to fill it then to go to Israel and “help”. However, he didn’t even bring his guitar with him–so it seemed that he went / arrived there without a plan as to how to “help” Israel in the war. Additionally, from his speeches later in life he claimed to have written certain songs for the Egyptians AND the Israelis…and he even removed verses that were pro Israel…so does this mean he didn’t really have a “side”?

I got the impression that Cohen was a fickle celebrity who had high notions of his own self importance. I understand that through his music he gave inspiration, hope and joy to the troops who were facing death, but from reading the book it didn’t seem like that was really his intention. It felt more like he was bored, and this was something to do, and maybe gain some inspiration for himself.

I would have liked to learn more about the war itself, not just the “role” (if you can even call it that) that Leonard Cohen played (no pun intended) in the war.

That being said, the book was well written and I liked the audiobook version where the quotes of Leonard Cohen are read by a different voice then the narrator.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.