Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
From its arresting title Maror – bitter herbs – to its final pages, this is an unforgettably powerful saga of life in Israel in the last four decades of the twentieth century. It is a sweeping portrayal of violence, corruption and chaos threaded through by veins of humanity.
Lavie Tidhar has written a book that illumines the complexity and mayhem which are factors that so easily can shatter the fragile peace with Palestine. As I write, Israel has again launched rockets into Gaza.
Multigenerational, there are incidents, shocking in their casualness, by men of various ages. A central enigmatic character, Cohen, a policeman, shoots six men in one day with the ease of performing a routine task… Throughout he appears, often unexpectedly, vacillating between playing by the rules and delivering his own version of justice. He believes a French tourist is responsible for several rapes over the years, so without any judicial process, kills him. One character wryly says ‘Cohen wields Bible quotes like other men use guns.’
The police in Tel Aviv rule by ruthless violence yet themselves commit crimes. There is the audacious robbery when they attempt to rob a safe, fail to get the combination because they have rendered the owner unconscious, then kidnap his wife and demanded a huge ransom.
Young Jewish men, like Avi and Shari, court danger in their becoming involved in the drug trade, and while on a ‘trip’ after a pop concert, pounce on some innocent bystanders and savagely assault them. They, like Eddie a colleague of Cohen’s, are gradually corrupted by all they witness. Sadly, many young men are trapped into following the path of violence and acquiring fortunes from the drug trade.
Hava has the perfect life but is attracted to gamble on the stock market. That leads to her committing fraud on her friend. In just a few pages, her life is vividly exposed. She obsessively scrubs every surface attempting to deal with the lack of moral cleanliness that permeates her society.
The sights, sounds and even smells of the city are captured in prose that is predominantly in simple sentences, sharp and fast paced, which so perfectly echoes the restless tension grasping the characters and the country. Tidhar’s dazzling skill is never more evident than when Avi and Imbil are caught in the crush at a pop concert when a wall collapses. Horror distilled.
Constant music references indicate its importance in people’s lives and add a special dimension to the atmosphere of Maror. I often longed for an accompanying CD so that I could immerse myself more intensely in this wonderful book.
There is the general elation at the signing of the treaty with the Palestinians by Rabin, followed by joy at the thought of a life free of conflict. The peace is shattered by Rabin’s assassination; and as one man declares ‘the trouble with you Jews is that you love the land, but hate each other’.
In the timeframe of these forty years, Israel transforms from a society still bound by the old customs to emerge as a modern nation. Maror creates a vivid image of these times, visiting cities, continents, and multiple characters. It is a vibrant story of the building of a nation – not just with statesmen, armies, workers but by thieves, prostitutes and policemen.
It is difficult to do justice to such a monumental work. So many aspects of Maror attract superlatives but they fail to convey the range and breathtaking insight of this epic crime novel.
A book for all lovers of great literature.
by Lavie Tidhar
Head of Zeus
ISBN 978 183893 136 0