I got a complimentary e-copy of this novel from the publisher – thank you very much! That fact didn’t influence my opinion in any way.
Zacchaeus (Zach) Miller, an aspiring but not exactly successful American writer, was looking for a good topic when his friend, Preston, suggested a visit to a reservation town called Kuruk where lived an unusual Native American boy. Zach went there on a whim and at first was thrown out of a restaurant, owned by the mother of that boy; then he was granted a private audience with Jivin, a kind of little Apache guru, a creature of superhuman capacity guarded by his folk like a national secret.
Jivin asked Zach to go to Israel to save a lot of lives – but he never told him exactly how. Did Jivin really have a special power of prescience? Anyway Zach packed in no time, borrowed money from his mom and booked a flight to Tel Aviv. What for? He didn’t know himself. He had no agenda, no prior interest in that country and he wasn’t religious. Still he went.
On the plane he met Amir Hamdallah, a young Palestinian actor and screenwriter living in Israel but trying to make a career in the USA. They chatted, they befriended each other, shared their addresses and soon enough Zach was invited to the luxurious house of Amir’s father. While being entertained and teased by Bahlya, Amir’s beautiful sister, Zach was undergoing indoctrination which aim was to turn him into a champion of the Palestinian cause. However the more he heard the more wary he became and he had pledged to be an impartial agent to begin with. One evening he decided to explore Amir’s bedroom, found a safe with plans for an atomic acoustical bomb. Then he was abducted, tortured, accused of being an Israeli spy and imprisoned. Will he be ever free again? Will he manage to prevent the worst?
The first 100 pages made me almost drop this novel. Almost. It was mainly because I had to deal with a main lead who, in my view, was simply too stupid do live. I can understand that a writer might look for inspiration in a reservation but really, a little boy you see the first time in your life tells you to go to Israel and your reaction is more or less: ‘fine, yeah, whatever’? You buy a plane ticket, you borrow money and decide to go sightseeing to that pretty volatile country just because you can? Then you meet an overly friendly and rather talkative guy on the plane, somebody you don’t really like at first, and here you go, after several days of aimless rambling you have nothing better to do than to land a honour guest at his father’s house, making eyes at his sister? By the way almost from the very beginning it was crystal clear that the main hero had been lied to by his mum and I really hate that plot device – older/wiser/more experienced people lying to their younger children/charges because they think they know better.
Then Zach was kidnapped and believe it or not, I breathed with relief – of course not because he was tortured, beaten and subjected to the most horrible brainwashing techniques but because finally something logical happened. After being released to the Israeli he landed in another prison, far more comfortable but still a prison, and I admit that part was very well-done, a joy to read, mainly because it showed that propaganda is never limited to one side of the conflict.
Then came Josea Roth (Josea, really? Isn’t it a male name?), a pretty genius girl Zach went to school with so, in other words, a deus-ex-machina character in a form of a Mary Sue. She met with his mum and then came to visit him in prison and their first meeting was introduced this way:
„THERE WAS NO game of twenty questions challenging me to guess who was coming to visit. Instead, there was a rap on my door.
“Hey, Jew boy, put on your Sunday clothes. You have a visitor,” one of the guards yelled to me minutes before Josea arrived.”
Excuse me, Jew boy and Sunday clothes? Mind you, it was supposed to come from the mouth of another Jew, a prison guard… perhaps the author considered it to be just an innocuous idiom but it made me wince.
Finally the style. In order not to sound groundless let me quote one sentence – a good example how trying too much might, in my humble opinion, spoil your style.
„I regretted my lungs didn’t have the cowardly nature of my tin heart to considerately abandon me because I was suffocating to near asphyxiation, fearful a molecule of air feeding my respiration would uncover me as the cheap sneak I had become”
Perhaps it’s just me but I admit in the middle of that beauty I caught myself wondering what it actually meant and then I had to crawl to the end so nothing eluded me again. Fortunately such ‘beauties’ didn’t happen too often.
I liked the premise and the author mentioned some great issues but overall his novel left me unenthusiastic, even cold. Maybe it was because I never truly liked or cared about any of the characters; maybe because Zach’s story, when reduced to bare bones, proved to be rather common-or-garden.