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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Staff Book Review: A GRAVE IN GAZA

Here he is again, Omena's own Bruce Balas!!!

A GRAVE IN GAZA, by Matt Beynon Rees. Fiction. Soho Press, 2008

If you enjoy a mystery story that is both informative and topical, as well as good suspense, this is an excellent candidate. You’ll recall that last month former president Jimmy Carter returned from a trip to the Middle East, where he tried to broker a ceasefire between the Palestinian group “Hammas” and the Israelis. In spite of his Nobel Prize-winning stature, he was unsuccessful, and he isn’t the first U.S. president to tackle the problem of peace in Palestine and come out with a bruised ego. What is it about the situation in Palestine that makes it so difficult to resolve?

This novel may help you understand some of the problems, as it is written by a man who lives in Jerusalem and has worked there as a reporter for TIME magazine. His insider’s view will go a long way toward helping Americans understand the workings of Hammas, Fatah, and many other of these factions and why they don’t get along with each other, let alone with the Israelis. The best news, though, is that he writes it the way a mystery story should be written and not like a textbook of Middle East history, so as you are carried along with the mystery, you are learning about the region and its inhabitants at the same time.

The main character is Omar Yussef, a teacher at the U.N. school near Bethlehem. You mlght not expect a teacher to have an exciting adventure full of bombs and guns, but evidently life in Palestine is like that. In this story, Yussef has been sent to inspect the U.N. school in Gaza. On the way there, he barely escapes with his life from a roadside bombing, and soon it becomes evident that he has inadvertently gotten embroiled in a fierce battle between two factions fighting over control of a new type of rocket to be used on the Israelis. It’s an exciting adventure ahead for our mild-mannered schoolteacher! And watch for the neat clue in the title.

In addition to the education I received from this book, I particularly enjoyed the way the author countered the gloomy situation in the Middle East by injecting humorous banter into the dialogue between the various characters of the story, so that even though there are a lot of shootings, bombings and blood, there’s also lots to chuckle at. It was a very enjoyable reading experience, and as soon as I finish this review, I’m heading right down to Dog Ears Books to order the first book of the series, “The Collaborator of Bethlehem,” by the same author.

- Bruce Balas


Matt Beynon Rees said...

Thanks for the terrific review of my novel. I'm delighted you enjoyed it. It's particularly gratifying to see a review from a bookstore, rather than a newspaper or magazine. Best wishes, Matt Beynon Rees

P. J. Grath said...

We, in turn, are honored to have you as a visitor to the blog, Matt. And true to his word, Bruce ordered and is now reading another of your books. I know he will be pleased that you left a comment.