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Maror

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Avi does remarkable work, leading to the killing and arrest of important suspects, but then he goes even further, realizing in the end that Cohen himself has had the bomb set off not to kill Rubenstein but to kill the girl who can then be an organ donor to his desperately ill granddaughter. A smart and violent book that tells a history of the State of Israel through fragmented, interconnected chapters that rely on the reader to piece them back together. Benny is at one stage tricked by Cohen into entering southern Lebanon during the first Israel-Lebanon war, to make a lucrative drug deal (of course). His Howard Hughes is an even sicker, more sexually frustrated figure than the worst depictions of the one-time tech hero. Late in the piece Cohen's position in the text as the representative of the soul of Israel is made explicit in a surreal episode during Avi's bad trip.

Maror, of course, is the bitter herb on display at the Passover seder table to remind celebrants of the pain behind the Jewish exodus. A journal through the Israeli underworld, this is an epic, sweeping saga with drug dealing, murder, violence and history. This was my first time reading anything by Tidhar and it won't be the last, because the writing and the author's attention to detail was fantastic. The blurb said it would appeal to fans of The White Tiger which I love but it's a very different type of book. I'm going to tag the review for spoilers, but I would suggest that very little here will spoil a close reading of the text.

Tidhar being Tidhar, of course, he's not going to let himself do anything so plodding as a straight Whither Israel? It's about people as ciphers for countries, it's about men and what they do to women and to each other.

Strands include the female victims of a serial rapist/murderer, drugs and the corruption of those in power, all set against a distinctively Israeli background with National Service, war, protests and peace initiatives, assassinations and corrupt land deals. It's crime fiction where the crimes become cumulative, where the idea of corruption and organized crime are exactly what a new nation requires for a certain kind of legitimacy.

A confession is beaten out of the wrong suspect, a serial killer goes free, and a mood of cynicism sets in. This is the first long-form novel I had read by the author and the short-stories I encountered were from the scifi/fantasy genre. There is a bewildering level of violence and mayhem at the start, which seems at times a bit too hard-boiled.

It might help to have a little knowledge of Israeli history as keys moments from that countries past feature centrally here, and Tidhar doesn't take the easy route of leading his reader by the hand. I wonder what hasbarists or in any case Zionists will make of the novel, especially at at time where all anti-Zionism is being so forcibly smeared as anti-Semitism. Some of the data that are collected include the number of visitors, their source, and the pages they visit anonymously. That's where Avi has his bad trip and a vision of Cohen tells him he's the voice of the soul of Israel.I think the book is supposed to imply that the world revolves around Cohen but it wasn’t made that clear and I guess it’s up to the reader to make sense of it.

This is crime writing in the tradition of Balzac and Dickens and a major achievement, full of sound, fury, drugs and blood. While some names were changed and dialogue is invented, most of the major players and the historical events really happened. I really enjoyed this book and also think it can be a great (and fun) introduction to Israel for people who've only read about the political side of it.

But Cohen is always there, slowly becoming more resigned to the ever-darkening grey areas within which he operates. Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land (2013), a must-read for the liberal bourgeoisie both in and outside Israel, was another.

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