Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar
Subjective Chaos Nominee – Blurred Boundaries
Publisher – Tachyon
Published – Out Now
Price – £9.99 paperback
Lior Tirosh is a semi-successful author of pulp fiction, an inadvertent time traveller and an ongoing source of disappointment to his father. Tirosh has returned to his homeland in East Africa. But Palestina – a Jewish state founded in the early 20th century – has grown dangerous. Unrest in Ararat City is growing; the government is building a vast border wall to keep out African refuges. Tirosh has become state security officer Bloom’s prime murder suspect, while rogue agent Nur stalks him through trans dimensional rifts – possible futures to be prevented only by avoiding the mistakes of the past.
For blurring boundaries, I want to have that feel of the unusual giving me something new and this tale from Lavie Tidhar is certainly delivering on that scale. This a tale of giving us the unexpected then bouncing off into a weaving tale of other worlds and lives while making pointed comments on how people are shaped by their culture and how certain events always repeat themselves.
We have an everyman lead in Lior Tirosh who writes science fiction but has rarely been heard of. Returning at last to his homeland Palestina the Jewish homeland in east Africa set up for persecuted Jews to start fleeing the growing repression in Europe. Its now a power of its own but both with the surrounding African and those who lived on this land before the new country established themselves there are now daily bombings and repression of minorities. But many remember other lives of other places and someone wants to make sure that this reality stays fixed whatever the cost to human life.
It’s a very unusual premise. It feels almost like Graham Greene like noir tale of a man returning home being hired to find a lost relative but hunted by a dedicated but morally fixed investigator for the state. But every time you think you get the feel for the tale there is a curve ball. Tirosh has memories of a past that much matches our own; a red cross agency has a swastika on it; we also meet Nur who is one of a group of agents preserving their own reality’s timeline. By never fully explaining matters it creates a feeling of uncertainty about he whole novel which I feel is deliberate as one of the wider themes is the examination of the concept of a Jewish state. Provocatively this is Palestina not a different Israel, but the point is made that just placing a whole country into an existing settled country will always create tension and lead to oppression. There is an exploring of those who have felt persecution then turning to an inherent racism of those they view as different and ultimately designing their own repressive measures in order to enforce that security. But it’s not a universal view. Across the country of Palestina we meet those who don’t accept the state’s view of its power and instead using the character of Bloom we see that state in all its blunt, uncaring certainty that its way is right ready to crush all resistance. Those in power spy on everyone; suspect everyone and ultimately just want to place walls around themselves to construct a reality that meets their worldview.
I think because the book is very careful to show the different sides of a country while its morality is on the human and those under repression the plot as to who is causing the recent events is secondary and in the final few chapters feels more rushed just to explain matters. I’d had loved to see a little more of Nur and her view of the wold. As a middle eastern woman who comes from a parallel universe to our own her story feels at times a little cut short in the conclusion of events.
For a thought provoking read on nationalism especially in this awful decade we are in I think this is a fascinating entrant and handles a difficult subjective smartly. Good books should always make you think once you turn that final page and I think I’ll be mulling over this one for a long while to come. A worthy nominee!