by Sayed Kashua
In Jerusalem, two Arabs are on the hunt for the same identity.
The first is a wealthy lawyer with a thriving practice, a large house, a Mercedes and a beautiful family.
With a sophisticated image to uphold, he decides one evening to buy a second-hand Tolstoy novel recommended by his wife - but inside it he finds a love letter, in Arabic, undeniably in her handwriting.
Consumed with jealous rage, the lawyer vows to take his revenge on the book's previous owner.
Elsewhere in the city, a young social worker is struggling to make ends meet.
In desperation he takes an unenviable job as the night-time carer of a comatose young Jew. Over the long, dark nights that follow, he pieces together the story of his enigmatic patient, and finds that the barriers that ought to separate their lives are more permeable than he could ever have imagined.
As they venture further into deception, dredging up secrets and ghosts both real and imagined, the lawyer and the carer uncover the dangerous complexities of identity - as their lies bring them ever closer together.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 352 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 07/02/2013
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780701187071
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Review by mkboylan
I am SO glad I read this book. It has given me still another perspective that I had not previously been much aware of. I've read a little (very little) about Palestine/Israel relationships, but most of that had been written by people who took a strong stance one way or the other. This novel is written from the perspective of two Palestinians living in Israel not on the West Bank, who seem to be apolitical. One of them is an attorney with resources, the other a social worker with none, which further broadens the perspective. This is a story about identity development of two men living as a cultural minority. There were so many consequences of that that I had not thought about so much. There are the obvious issues of religious differences e.g. stores and businesses closed on someone else's holy day rather than your own. That requires planning. The discrimination also followed the usual patterns of employment discrimination, educational discrimination, neighborhood and real estate issues, etc. At one point it felt to me, from my American experience, that I was reading about a light-skinned person of color in the United States passing as white. The stress of doing so is of course enormous, such as having to hide family ties and background ties as well as language and grammar differences, lack of knowledge about majority values, history, myths, etc. These necessary secrets block the development of intimacy in relationships, which then feeds a vicious circle. As I continued reading I began thinking about other groups living this experience, which happens everywhere, such as Northern Ireland with Catholic vs. Protestant, poor white students with scholarships to U.S. ivy league colleges, women everywhere in a patriarchal culture. Mostly this then became a reminder to me of the ways we humans are similar rather than different, the pains of identity and separation and even discrimination that we all suffer in some way, although not to this extent perhaps. It reminded me that probably most of us "plain people" are not interested in fighting with each other, but more likely it is the political leaders owned by the wealthy that cause the fighting - reminds me it is a class issue more than religious or political. Yeah yeah I know - we let them. It is a very interesting book.