A prisoner in a secret cell. The guard who has watched over him a dozen years. An American waitress in Paris. A young Palestinian man in Berlin who strikes up an odd friendship with a wealthy Canadian businessman. And The General, Israel’s most controversial leader, who lies dying in a hospital, the only man who knows of the prisoner’s existence.
From these vastly different lives Nathan Englander has woven a powerful, intensely suspenseful portrait of a nation riven by insoluble conflict, even as the lives of its citizens become fatefully and inextricably entwined–a political thriller of the highest order that interrogates the anguished, violent division between Israelis and Palestinians, and dramatizes the immense moral ambiguities haunting both sides. Who is right, who is wrong–who is the guard, who is truly the prisoner?
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes
Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Equal parts political thriller and tender lamentation, the latest from Englander (What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank, 2012) explores, in swirling, nonlinear fashion, Israeli-Palestinian tensions and moral conflicts. The General, who is never named but is clearly former prime minister Ariel Sharon, lies in a coma, his thoughts hovering over past glories and a horrifying gunshot. By his side is Ruthi, his devoted assistant, whose pot-smoking, TV-obsessed son has found a plum job guarding the disappeared Prisoner Z in a secret prison in the Negev. An American spy who in a moment of either moral courage or traitorous intent turned against his Israeli backers, Z was on the run in Europe but tripped up when he fell in love with a fearless waitress from an ultrawealthy Italian family. Discerning the connections between these narratives provides much of the drama, which turns on the logic of human weakness and intractable opposition. Ultimately, Englander suggests that shared humanity and fleeting moments of kindness between jailer and prisoner, spy and counterspy, hold the potential for hope, even peace.
Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
A prisoner is held for more than a decade in the Israeli desert while, elsewhere, a general in a coma hallucinates about his past life and a young man works to fund the Palestinian resistance.Englander’s (What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, 2012, etc.) latest novel is an odd amalgam: part political thriller, part romance, part absurdist farce, it never quite settles into the story it wants to tell. First, there’s Prisoner Z, who’s been held for 12 years in an undisclosed location in Israel’s Negev Desert. His only human contact has been with his guard. Then, there are flashbacks to Prisoner Z’s time hiding out in Paris. An American intelligence operative, he’s compromised Israeli secrets, and the authorities have it in for him. In the meantime, he starts up a romance with a waitress and they dash around Europe together. There’s also the General, an infamous Israeli leader who’s been in a coma for years; Ruthi, the General’s former assistant and current caretaker; Ruthi’s son, who happens to serve as Prisoner Z’s guard; and Farid, a young Palestinian in Berlin who’s working to fund his brother’s anti-settlement activities. Chapters alternate among these various threads. Unfortunately, Englander fails to fully weave them together. His tone is uneven—sometimes he strains toward humor, sometimes toward drama, without quite reaching either one. The humor sags, and the political intrigue doesn’t quite add up. If it’s a farce, it’s an uneasy one. Toward the end, Englander introduces a second romance, and this one feels rushed, tacked on like a donkey’s tail. Still, there are moments of fine writing throughout. An uneasy blend of political intrigue, absurdity, and romance struggles to establish a steady, never mind believable, tone.
About the Author
Nathan Englander is a Jewish-American author born in Long Island, NY in 1970. He wrote the short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in 1999. The volume won widespread critical acclaim, earning Englander the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize, and established him as an important writer of fiction. His website is www.nathanenglander.com
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