More reviews of Lavie Tidhar’s recommended UNHOLY LAND.
For THE REPORTER GROUP, Rabbi Rachel Esserman praises the novel.
The author makes clear what he is questioning through his characters’ thoughts and words. For example, Lior speaks to Bloom about the detective novels he writes, which Bloom disparages: “I am trying to explain what it is we do when we construct stories of alternative realities. What we do is literalise the metaphor, so to speak. We construct a world of make-believe in order to consider how our own world is constructed.” The author does just that by trying to discover what would have happened if Jews had founded a different homeland. His characters also analyze how people make sense of the world: “What was history, [Lior] thought, if not a human attempt to impose order on chaos, to give meaning to a series of what were, essentially, just meaningless events? In detective fiction, as in history, order had to be imposed: clues sifted, witnesses interviewed, conspirators unmasked, murderers brought to justice. The problem was that everyone had a different story.”
The author explores these different stories, showing the similarities and differences that might have occurred wherever Jews settled in a country of their own. “Unholy Land” is reminiscent of the author’s previous novel “A Man Lies Dreaming” in that readers have to determine what is real and what is imaginary. (For a review of “A Man Lies Dreaming,” visit www.thereportergroup.org/Article.aspx?aID=4586.) The novel demands readers’ attention and provokes questions not only about the nature of reality, but whether humans can escape their fate.
WE THREE READERS enjoys the book.
I love books that take things that nearly happened in history and play about with the idea of ‘What if that really happened?’ Like Sarah Gailey in River of Teeth – “What if the USA really did import hippos into Louisiana?”
This is what Lavie Tidhar has done in Unholy Land. A little-known point of history was that someone thought of creating a country in Africa for Jewish people to settle into. Tidhar takes this idea and runs with it, giving us a fully fleshed out alternate history of what might have been. I love this sort of fiction; it is the definition of Speculative.
While difficult to describe, I am very glad that I picked this one up and will recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys these types of books.
APEX MAGAZINE (JANUARY 2019) features the new Tidhar short story “The Great Train Robbery.”
From high above the Escapement, from the perspective of a flying caique or other clown bird, the railway line appeared more like a sort of tangled mandala, following not a straight path but the twisting contours of the landscape; and it often doubled back on itself, crossing the former line with a new one, creating a series of curious knots. The terminus point of Kellysburg appeared as a smudged thumbprint in the distance. Ahead, the tiny engine puffed out a steady plume of smoke as it pulled the passenger cars and hoppers behind it. The hopping cars were loaded with sacks of crystalline Substance from the pits and quarries of the Kellysburg prospectors. A couple of cattle cars held horses, including the Stranger’s horse, who was munching sedately on hay.
From high above the Escapement, the train was nothing but a toy set, huffing and puffing its slow way along the narrow tracks. A flock of caiques, birds uneasy with flight at the best of times, settled themselves onto the branches of a tree high above the railway line, where they chattered animatedly and mimicked the whistle sound of the train to amuse themselves. The train struggled as the elevation rose. They were still only on the edges of the Thickening, and beyond lay the Doinklands and the Doldrums and the great graveyards of the wild elephant herds.
For more info on UNHOLY LAND, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Sarah Anne Langton