by Lavie Tidhar
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Pub Date 4 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 4 Aug 2022
Head of Zeus, Apollo
A multi-generational saga with cultural and political depth, drawing on the rich, often troubling recent history of Israel, for fans of A History of Seven Killings or The White Tiger.
How do you build a nation?
It takes statesmen and soldiers, farmers and factory workers, of course. But it also takes thieves, prostitutes and policemen.
Nation-building demands sacrifice. And one man knows exactly where those bodies are buried: Cohen, a man who loves his country. A reasonable man for unreasonable times.
A car bomb in the back streets of Tel Aviv. A diamond robbery in Haifa. Civil war in Lebanon. Rebel fighters in the Colombian jungle. A double murder in Los Angeles.
How do they all connect? Only Cohen knows.
Maror is the story of a war for a country's soul – a dazzling spread of narrative gunshots across four decades and three continents.
It is a true story. All of these things happened.
Praise for Maror:
'Some write in ink, others in song, Tidhar writes in fire... Maror is a kaleidoscopic masterpiece, immense in its sympathies, alarming in its irreverences and altogether exhilarating' Junot Díaz
'One of the boldest, most visionary writers I've ever read creates both a vivid political exploration and a riveting crime epic. It's like the Jewish Godfather!' Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 10 members
First, I'd like to thank Head of Zeus and Netgalley for providing me with an early copy of the novel in return for an honest review.
I've been a fan of the author for quite some time, and read several of his novels. The first thing that stands out with Maror is that it's unlike anything else he's ever written. Of course his energetic style, vividness of descriptions, and vivacious characters are all there, but this time - there is no speculative component. The book is a retelling of Israel's nationbuilding through the lens of its criminal underbelly, taking inspiration from multiple real-life events that occurred in Israel between 1970 and 2001 (roughly). The amount of research that has gone into this book is truly impressive - the author brings to life (albeit hypothetically) pivotal historical events and the characters that shaped them, with the fictional character Cohen involved in each story. You don't really know if Cohen is a villain or a saint, and in some ways he represents to id of the Israeli nation (perhaps?). The painstaking detail the author pays to the music of each period is also deeply impressive, as it provides a red thread of the emotional torrent in each period (from nationalistic fervour to individualistic hedonism).
I really enjoyed this book and also think it can be a great (and fun) introduction to Israel for people who've only read about the political side of it. The author quotes Bialik (a famous Jewish poet) in saying: "We shall only have a true state when we have our own Hebrew thief, our own Hebrew whore, and our own Hebrew murderer", and this, for me, epitomises the purpose of the author in embarking on this journey.
My one peeve with this book is that I felt the ending to be too open-ended. While I understand the choice to do it this way, I also can't but feel that something is missing for me in giving the entire narrative more purpose and more closure. Maybe it's just me, and others will find this ending congruent with the rest of the narrative.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that I'm not sure how much of this book will be accessible to people who don't know Israel or indeed its underbelly. I happen to know it, and found the book easy to follow and understand, identifying the real events that inspired the episodes in the book. It's hard for me to judge what impact it will have on those who've no familiarity with this topic at all.
Either way, if you have any interest in Israel as a nation, or just like the author's style, it's a must read.
This was the first book that I have read by this author and gosh, what a book to start with. The writing style, the plotline, the characters and the way they were developed were all incredible. It is based upon a period of history that I am not fully aware of or know much information about but the wealth of knowledge in this book made it obvious that the author had researched very highly and had seamlessly put that knowledge/research down on the page.
There are so many elements to this book that I am still processing it but all I can say is that it is simply stunning and definitely a must read.
Tidhar is a great storyteller, he can write any genre he wants to write. I have enjoyed his stories of the future, his ucronías, his superheroes, and now this historical novel that narrates different moments of the darkest history of Israel. I really liked the different voices that he proposes and the structure in short stories with time jumps.
Who can forget the savage, musical James Ellroy prose circa the L.A. Quartet books? Now we have a successor and fittingly, the action takes place in modern Israel. Lavie Tidhar, a marvelous multi-genre author who never fails to delight, has now penned his noir opus, "Maror." Spanning over three decades from the early seventies, it is the amoral tale of the underbelly of Israeli society, sitting on the shoulders of the nation's cops (always corrupt), thieves, drug runners, whores, and assassins. Written with a relentless rhythm (allied to disparate music of the times) and scabrous, tough-as-nails prose, different parts of Israel feature, as well as Mexico, war-riven Lebanon, steamy Colombian jungles, and elsewhere. And every story features the enigmatic kingpin Cohen, a senior policeman pulling the strings while quoting flowery sayings and exerting a charismatic pull on all around him. Maror is a heady, nonstop brew of terror, violence, and mayhem, while also exuding swathes of coursing humanity. Deserves to be a cult classic, if not an award winner.
Part of why I read is to learn about things I don’t know and, although I have studied a little of its history I have a big gap in my knowledge of Israel so some googling was in order. Israel is the size of Wales with a population close to that of London. Tel Aviv’s population is roughly the same as Bristol’s. Maror are the bitter herbs eaten at the Passover Seder; an enticing indication of what’s to come.
First we are introduced to Avi. He’s a bit of a shambles – he needs to sleep more and drink and snort less but he’s likeable nonetheless. Avi’s a cop. But that’s not even half the story. The person we really need to get to know is Cohen. Cohen has seen it all. And done most of it too.
Maror is written in such a way that I was immediately drawn in. Short sentences, plain language. Exposition is achieved by stealth, for example describing three people that walk past to show the diversity of the place. It’s subtly done and that’s no mean feat when dealing with such a complex subject as Israel, particularly in the period covered by the book. I’m still digesting the many strands of the story and think it’ll require a re-read to fully appreciate the wealth of characters and events, most of which actually happened. Cracking stuff.
Through a variety of interconnected characters, spanning time and place, Tidhar takes us on a journey not only through Israel's criminal underworld, but across Israel's history itself. With wonderful attention to detail, Tidhar draws upon historical events as well as his own Israeli insight to create a fascinating, interwoven tale that kept me turning page after page.
I fully admit that my knowledge of Israel and its history is lacking and I therefore found myself learning throughout this novel. No doubt I also missed a lot of detail that one familiar with the country would pick up on. Tidhar has created a cast of fascinating characters that tell their own individual stories, which are carefully crafted to interconnect with each another. One character is a common thread throughout, Cohen.
Drug dealing, murders, unsolved crimes, war, export of arms, this novel has it all. My only real gripe is the ending, I really would've liked more although I understand why the author has chosen this route. Otherwise, this is a novel that I think I will reread in the future, in fact I think I'd possibly get more out of it then, now that my knowledge of Israel's recent history has been improved somewhat!
I've come to Lavie Tidhar from his fantasy and science fiction work, but while none of that was any great respecter of genre boundaries, this is still very clearly something different. The obvious thing to call it would be an attempt at the Great Israeli Novel, but with the proviso that its models are in that overlap of writers trying to do the Great American Novel by way of crime. I'm thinking in particular of James Ellroy, though bear in mind that's coming from someone who only read two fairly early Ellroys a good few years back and found that plenty. And it was when the prose here felt the most like it was reaching for his incantatory power that I felt least convinced by it:
"Avi went still.
Avi went cold.
Ramzi closed his eyes.
His chest stopped moving.
Avi let the gun drop."
Thankfully, most of Maror isn't like that. And it has the edge over Ellroy that where he's riffing on generations of other books and films about bad shit going down in LA, relocating all those damaged veterans and drug deals and shady land trades to the far end of the Mediterranean instantly changes the story, even before you factor in the suicide bombs and the long wars and the differences in culture. Which, without being overdone, give a real sense of a world and a life that are the same in many respects as the Anglosphere...yet not. As a British reader, I have at least a sort of osmotic familiarity with most of the bands and shows and brands and films that get dropped into US crime stories to build a sense of place and particularity, but here some of the names are the same and others really aren't. Likewise with the incidents, as the characters twine around each other over the long, violent decades: sometimes I know a war or an assassination is coming, but a scandal or a disaster can still blindside me. The main currents of history, though – well. We open in the early 21st century on Cohen, a cop so bad even Vic Mackie would do a sharp intake of breath, then flash back to the seventies, and gradually see how the fresh-faced young investigator ended up like that. In amongst all the explosions, serial killings, double-crosses and other genre staples, though, I think the most painful I found the reading experience was when the narrative hit the nineties, where in Israel as so many places it seemed like there was a chance of peace, a new world no longer defined by the feuds and hatreds of the past. And there as elsewhere, we all know now how that ended.
Tidhar being Tidhar, of course, he's not going to let himself do anything so plodding as a straight Whither Israel? novel. Little nods to his SF sneak in; a bookseller who mostly makes his money from drugs nowadays has a picture on his wall of the Central Station which, in Tidhar's book of the same name, was actually built – and I feel like the bookseller himself may also have cropped up in that book and/or Unholy Land. Not every gesture works; each chapter opens with a quote, usually from within itself, but when the chapters aren't long this mainly serves to get a bit 'do you see?' with the apposite ones ("Land is a tricky business," yes, very good) and feel like it's reaching the rest of the time. The section set in the 1982 Lebanon war takes all of its chapter titles from Duran Duran songs, for no reason I found terribly clear; surely even if you wanted to go New Romantic then the Human League would have been the obvious choice? But overall, it builds into something with enough tragic sweep and granularity that I feel it was worth the reading; certainly not my favourite Tidhar, but way ahead of the ones that weren't for me at all. And hell, as with Adrian Tchaikovksy, even if you're not quite sold on one there'll be another along in a minute; this isn't out until August, but the main reason I've got around to finishing it now is that I already have another Netgalley ARC of his next one afterwards, and that looks right up my street.
"'I wouldn't do that,' it said. 'If I were you. One gives you life and the other knowledge, and you're too young to need either one just yet.' 'You're a snake,' Avi said. 'No shit,' the snake said.'"
Maror is a raw account of the unspoken rules that keep society running, find a way to manage the black markets and the unethical deals trusted officials will make to maintain state funding. Set in Israel, Maror explores the foundations that underpin the young state, through a non-linear timeline, multiple protagonists and a variety of challenges, including kidnapping, terrorist financing, the drug trade, oligarchs taking Israeli passports to preserve assets and unsolved serial killings.
The book delivers when it comes to nuance and awareness of the conflict in the region, without overtly taking a side and reflecting the raw deal everyone involved gets. Political affiliations and international relations ultimately boil down to nothing in the name of achieving end goals though, with enemies enemies becoming friends, when the time calls for it.
"Life dictated a path and you followed it, and it didn't matter how often you dressed up as an astronaut for Purim, there was still no fucking way you were going to set foot on the moon".
It's rare to find a Jewish fiction. Even rarer to find one that focuses on Jewish existence outside of the Holocaust. 5/5. Will read again. Will buy for all my friends too.
Thank you to NetGalley for the Arc.
If Tarantino wrote a political crime thriller, this would be it.
Maror is a swirling vortex of crime, violence, crosses and double-crosses, terrorists and drug-runners, serial killers, rapists, and fraudsters, all enmeshed in the social fabric of the new Israeli state.
And in the middle of it all, like Shelob in her lair, or an imperturbable Mr Wolff in Pulp Fiction, the policeman Cohen manipulates politicians, colleagues and crime bosses alike, in service of the country that he loves.
As in everything else he does, Tidhar takes the concept of the political thriller to the nth degree: over the four decades of the book, the nation of Israel moves from a nascent country struggling to establish itself to a fully modern society that has moved away from the traditions (family, kibbutzim, loyal army service) and cohesion of its inception becoming, in the process, a thriving part of the international drug business.
Tidhar juxtaposes these criminal events (with only a little detective work, enough episodes can be corroborated to make the rest credible) with the turbulent politics of the post-1967 war era. In this most searching novel of his career, he questions how the high ideals of Israel’s original founders have exploded with corruption and death, and whether this is inevitable in a capitalist structure – as one (or a country) accumulates property, so does one attract those who would benefit from this wealth.
Tidhar uses the popular songs of the respective decades to underline the move from innocence to moral sophistication, and to highlight the mood of the nation; and while his prose is unadorned, he draws a convincingly vivid picture of Israeli society at this time.
With an explosive climax to rival the last scenes of The Godfather 1, and superb world-building, Maror deserves a Pulitzer every bit as much as The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.
My thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book.
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