Friday, December 29, 2006

So, That's What We Were Missing

A Palestinian murder mystery novel.

"This powerful first novel from British journalist Rees humanizes the struggle of the West Bank, where Omar Yussef, a modest 56-year old schoolteacher in the Dehaisha Palestinian refugee camp, becomes an unlikely detective amid the uncertainties and violence of modern Bethlehem. ... The characters and the setting are so richly textured and the politicized events so wrenching that the mystery story becomes incidental. Though the story's conclusion offers a gratifying payoff, for many readers the real reward will be a more immediate sense of a distant and bewildering conflict."
-- Publishers Weekly

I set the first of my Palestinian mystery novels in Bethlehem because, for me, the town embodies that people's predicament: Everyone in the world has heard about it and even has ideas how to make it better, but that knowledge doesn't accord to the sinister, noirish reality in which the locals live and about which most journalism tells so little.

At the real-life elementary school where my fictional hero teaches, I read some fresh graffiti last week: "We water the garden with our red blood to let the olive tree grow higher."

The olive is a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness. As the students jumped joyfully all around me for no other reason than that I look rather foreign, I could only hope it wouldn't be their blood feeding the trees.

From Rachel's Tomb, the site where Jews believe one of their Biblical matriarchs lies buried and which I've seen transformed from a crumbling old building with a small dome to a three-story fortress, the road to Manger Square is instructive. Christmas lights are up all along the street, paid for with a big private donation, according to townspeople. But it turns out the street's merchants are paying for the lights.

You can also look at a short film introducing the hero of the novels, Omar Yussef, which features some of the Bethlehem locations from the first book.

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