Big thanks to Herschelian who comments here and who recommended this book for a good novel that would also furnish an even greater understanding of life and the political situation in Palestine. I bought a copy in an instant, and The Bethlehem Murders by Matt Rees has certainly lived up to Herschelian's billing.
Omar Yussef, teacher at the local refugee camp has always insisted that the children in his charge see every side to the political situation and when a former pupil is wrongly framed for murder Omar feels a responsibility to investigate.
A plot with all manner of twists, turns and deceits but what I gained most was a truly genuine feel for the unpredictability and the inherent dangers of day to day life in Palestine.Difficult to imagine from rural Devon it has to be said.
It's emotive to say 'this stricken country' but so true. Every life is expendable to the Martyrs Brigades, no one is safe, lawlessness and protection rackets abound and violent power struggles are inevitable.The fears this engenders are rife throughout the book. Everyone but everyone feels they belong in Bethlehem, Christians, Muslims and Jews and they will all be staking a claim to possess it,
' ...here in Palestine change is always for the worse...even to change a situation of hatred they make more hatred. Love is not an option, It's the choice of an idiot who wants to end with nothing, robbed and abused and humiliated...everyone's convinced that the only way to alter the bad relations...is to wipe out the other side. To kill them all.'
Omar Yussef must have been reading my thoughts on Nightingale by Peter Dorward a few weeks ago.
'...Omar Yussef read an arrogance in him of the kind that the young so often wore these days, full of the sense that their elders had failed to fight hard enough for the freedom of Palestine, convinced that they would be the ones to make the great sacrifices that would liberate the land.'
I suffered with early confusion over names but that was down to my unfamiliarity with the language rather than any fault of the author, once I understood how Omar Yussif could also be Abu Ramiz I was fine.
Expect any historical notions about the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, to be dispelled and replaced by a 21st century perspective on a place where conflict is perpetrated daily in the name of religion.
Cosy this is not, violent it is, but Matt Rees has been a journalist in the Middle East for ten years, he knows his stuff and though this is fiction and not a text book, books like this really don't allow anyone to bury their head in the sand a minute longer. Like Crusaders, avoid reading it if you absolutely can't bear the thought, but if you do you will find out what's really going on, and any arachnophobes might struggle with that cover too.
Thanks Herschelian for a book I feel very glad to have read.
Leading on from this I knew there was another book that I had to read immediately. A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird, the story of Karim, a young boy living under curfew in Ramallah and here's what Michael Morpurgo had to say about it
' We are apt to see events in Palestine and Israel as television drama; violent and repetitive. We are distant from it.But in this book we are taken into Ramallah, we live there, no longer mere observers, but involved as we should be. A fine and daring book.'
I heard Elizabeth Laird speaking on this book several years ago.Yes, this was at the legendary Children's Literature conference where Philip Pullman stood next to me in the lunch queue and asked me what was in the salad (chick peas...sorry 100th time I've told you that but us mere mortals must clutch at these moments) and Neil Gaiman sat next to me and I'd never heard of him. Heaven knows what Elizabeth Laird said, I can't remember, but I was impressed enough to buy a copy of the book and fortunately tucked inside it I've kept a transcript of her talk, how lucky is that?