I would not have found this book if not for the Nook free Friday offerings. I am so glad I did though. A “thriller set against the tumultuous politics of the present-day Middle East” is not a book I would normally pick up, but this was a pleasant surprise. There is an intriguing mix of history, politics, religion and mysticism that grabs you and keeps you in the story.
My knowledge of the Middle East as it currently exists is probably on par with most Westerners. My historical context is perhaps slightly above the average, but not by a whole lot. Where I feel I have a certainly more than fair grasp of the context is the religious history and folklore. Why am I telling you this – so you can understand better what I brought into reading this book.
It would be so very easy to adopt a moral position and tone and turn any story set against this backdrop into a heavy-handed lecture. Paul Sussman not only avoids this trap, but makes it seem effortless to have done so.
The 3 main characters are an Egyptian police inspector, a Palestinian journalist and a Jewish detective. A diverse cast, but even more interesting is the fact that for a good portion of the book they inhabit their own worlds only being brought into each other’s as the book nears its climax.
Oddly I found myself relating most closely to the middle aged Muslim Egyptian detective, Khalifa. His love of history and sadness at giving up the life he had planned paired with his love of family, questions about his faith and his sense of right and wrong is perfect. Arieh and Layla are dynamic and fully developed characters as well. In Arieh, the Jewesh detective, Sussman gives us a man grieving, hurt and angry – but who still wants to do what is right, even if he isn’t sure what that is. The Palestinian journalist Layla is hard and fierce but also vulnerable deep down inside. The history given to both of them deepens not only the characters but the reader’s understanding of the two sides involved in this ever present conflict.
Add to this a brilliant storyline crossing centuries and continents and what you have is an amazing book. The way in which the story weaves together is always fascinating and the pattern that develops constantly surprises but never in a contrived or forced way.
I took more time reading this book than I normally do. As I read very quickly normally and would usually have finished this book in less than 4 hours I was surprised to find that I spent about 6 ½ hours reading this. Part of that can be attributed to pausing to research a couple of things, but mostly it was because it caused be to think about my own beliefs and prejudices.
This book is described as a thriller, which it most definitely is, but it is also part political and social commentary – in the best way.
Thank you Paul Sussman for an exciting, well written and moving book.