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Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar. Book Review

November 16, 2018

Book cover of Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar. Show two people walking down a high arched open corridor with giraffes in the distance.

Lior Tirosh, a pulp-fiction writer, returns to Palestina, his homeland in East Africa to see his father. With an enormous border wall being built, and terrorist bombs going off in the capital of Ararat, it is not the place he once knew.

After a visit from an old friend who is concerned about Tirosh’s niece and implores Tirosh to find her, Tirosh discovers he is being pursued by Special Investigator Bloom of the state security. All the while Tirosh’s reality seems to be shifting in subtle and alarming ways.

This is an intricate novel of ‘what ifs’ and genius use of points of view to convey an intriguing narrative of alternate realities. Unholy Land begins simply enough as an obvious alternative reality story, where Hitler never came to power (although he does make a fleeting appearance in Tirosh’s world) and the Jewish homeland was established not in Asia but East Africa. What could be a bewildering narrative of Tirosh’s life seemingly fracturing and reassembling itself is held together by the underlying detective story of Tirosh’s search for his niece.

Science fiction/fantasy is often used to discuss real life. Plenty of the tumultuous events of the last few years (terrorist attacks, the building of walls to keep people from entering a country), as well as historical events (the Israeli/Palestinian conflict) will resonate uncomfortably with a reader.

The addition of alternate realities in any other author’s hand might have been a confusing mishmash of concepts. In Lavie Tidhar’s it becomes something to make a reader consider their world, while enjoying a gripping story and experiencing the same unnerving disorientation as the hapless Tirosh who, despite everything that happens to him, remains single-minded in his pursuit for the truth.

Tidhar’s complex network of threads within this tortuous narrative can at times verge on the bewildering. So, in deciding to read Unholy Land, you need to commit yourself completely to the story, applying total concentration, because this is the kind of novel which only rewards if you soak in every detail. As usual with Tidhar’s writing, this relatively short read feels as rich as an 800 page epic.

Unholy Land was courtesy of Tachyon Publications via NetGalley

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