The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land
by Omer Friedlander
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Pub Date 4 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 4 Aug 2022
John Murray Press, John Murray
'In these wise, capacious, achingly beautiful stories, Omer Friedlander maps the hidden geography of the human heart like a young Chekhov' ANTHONY MARRA
'A beautiful debut by a deeply humane writer. Every story is a vivid world unto itself, intensely felt, and often revelatory' NICOLE KRAUSS
A divorced con-artist and his young daughter sell empty bottles of 'holy' air to credulous tourists.
In a bombed-out Beirut radio station, a Lebanese Scheherazade enchants three young soldiers with her nightly tales.
Ahead of a school 'Show and Tell', two brothers kidnap a Shoah survivor from a supermarket to pose as their grandfather.
An Israeli volunteer at a West Bank checkpoint mourns the death of her son, a soldier killed in Gaza.
From the limestone alleyways of Jerusalem to the desolate Negev Desert and the sprawling orange groves of Jaffa, Omer Friedlander's stories are fairy tales turned on their head by the stakes of real life, where moments of fragile intimacy mix with comedy and notes of the absurd.
Casting his eye, not on the region's conflicts, but on the hopes and failures of its people, The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land is at times darkly funny, at others quietly devastating.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 16 members
This is an incredible compilation of short stories that are each uniquely evoking and entertaining. Friedlander considers the I/P conflict with utmost respect and it is evident how much thoughtfulness and research has gone into this book. It surpasses the boundaries of political writing, as in these stories, extraordinary depictions of seemingly ordinary lives are brought to light within beautiful prose. Even in its short format, you find yourself invested in each individual and it brings to the forefront a new perspective on modern conflict and the effects it can have on everyday life.
I really enjoyed this collection that was more emotive than I expected them to be. I really enjoyed the writing and found that each story was so well developed and I became so invested in the characters that it was like reasd a novel in each one. Both humourous and heart wrenching. One of the best books I have read this year.
Very profound collection of stories that makes you feel for the characters and their stories and makes you live it. Very well written and very immersive in nature, sad and funny in parts and leave sa remnant of it in the minds of readers even after the book has long been closed. I'd definitely go back to this book again.
This is one of the best collections of short stories I’ve read recently, all the more impressive for being a debut. The stories grapple in different ways with the impact of Israel’s tumultuous past and present on ordinary people, the fractures to the psyche that it inflicts. There is an ever-present spectre of danger and fear that looms large in every story.
In a story set during the Lebanese civil war, three IDF soldiers are sent to Beirut to stop a radio station from broadcasting fairytales that the authorities suspect to be coded messages to the PLO - they find a beautiful woman named Scheherazade, and they soon realise that her stories foretell their deaths. Another in the present day follows a mother who lost her son in Gaza; she is an activist at checkpoints holding soldiers like her son to account, and over the story her grief seeps out in confrontations with soldiers and settlers. In the funniest of the collection, two Sephardic children find a Holocaust survivor to bring to school for remembrance celebrations and rehearse a wild story to impress their classmates based on Holocaust films - so the man’s moving story about sewing himself a disguise to escape the death camps morphs into a story about a wolf who plays the piano hiding with Jews in a forest.
This was a fabulous collection of short stories. The kind of book you will find yourself saying urgently, over and over, to friends: 'Have you read it?
There are eleven stories in this debut book. The author comes over as a very good story teller. The warmth and bleakness of these tales shows a real humanity to me. The stories are set in the Middle East and I would suggest having some knowledge of the history and politics of the area would bring out the best in these stories.
I found these beautifully written and often understated. That if anything added to the power of the tales for me. I could say that these are "simple" stories but they are really far more than that. Underlying the simplicity is a real feel of "down to earthness". We have 11 very human tales of love and loss, life and death.
I'd generally pick out a story or two from such a book and probably they would be my favourites. That is just not possible with this book. For me there are no bad stories in the collection and most of them could be favourites. I made fairly brief notes on each story as I read them. Simply looking back over these notes now while writing my review sends shivers down my spine.
I guess I would highlight The Sand Collector personally. It is about similarities and differences as well as love and loss. It was powerful and well told. My notes for High Heels simply consisted of "WOW" - make of that what you will! Trying to find an "and finally" I really am torn. In the end I'll go for The Sephardi Survivor. It was colourful and almost tongue in cheek which is quite odd given the story. The characters seemed just right to me and I loved it.
There was never a question in my mind that this was going to be a 5 star review from quite early on in the book. I can't remember the last time I read a book of short stories and enjoyed the majority of them so much.
A spectacular collection of short stories and a masterpiece of story-telling. Friendlander notes in the book’s acknowledgements that he "wanted to unearth the hidden stories of individuals beneath the fossilized official narrative" — this is exactly what the book achieved for me, and what makes it so memorable.
Set in present-day Israel, the short stories are often grounded in the various conflicts that mark the country’s history, but what they really revolve around are human and universal experiences. Grief, first love, lost friendship, family bounds etc.: Friendlander demonstrates, and beautifully so, that beyond political or social contexts, we all love and suffer the same. It’s as heartwarming a read as it is humbling.
Each of the 11 stories explores a different world, from a lush Jaffa orange grove to the West Bank or the dry Negev Desert. Friendlander’s writing is superb, both lyrical and evocative, and transported me to places where colours, sounds and landscapes feel so real you could almost touch them. The book reads like poetry; I found myself reading a couple of stories at a time then setting it aside for a little bit, to give myself the space to fully take in and appreciate what I’d just read. It’s a book you read in one go, but it’s one you read again and again.
I appreciated that the stories vary in style: there’s the humorous and absurd, the slice of life that brings to light a hidden secret, those that take on the mythical notes of a fairytale etc. Jellyfish in Gaza, my favourite story, is one of the latter and perhaps some of the most beautiful and impactful work I have come across. The stories I would describe as the ‘classic’ short story format, with a bigger philosophical meaning and no clear ending, are the works that didn’t work quite as well for me; that style is just not my personal preference. But again, much like a book of poetry, some works will impact you more than others — and that often changes with each reread.
Huge thanks to Netgalley for bringing this book to my attention. Omer Friendlander, I am joining your fan club.
A very clear 5 star read and one of the best short story collections I have read. The stories are interesting, smart, moving and beautiful at the same time. They are small, focussing on a one or a few characters, but also big as they stand for a period or a situation in Israel since its foundation in 1948.
The 11 stories give you a panoramic view of the state (and the State) of Israel as it is today. They are Orange growers in Jaffa, kabbalist Jews in the Galilee, a father and daughter struggling to make ends meet in Tel Aviv, Bedouins in the Negev, left wing activists at a Gaza checkpoint, Holocaust survivors and more.
My favourites were the first five stories, in particular 'Alte Sachen' and the title story 'The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land'. The very last one is a gem as well. Many are bittersweet, but they can be hilarious as well: 'The Sephardic Survivor' made me laugh out loud despite being about a Holocaust survivor.
There is not a single weak story in the collection and if I were to rate them individually 8 out of 11 would get 5 stars. If I have to be critical, the only thing I can think of is that the endings are sometimes a bit too abrupt.
I don't know what Omar Friedlander will do next, but whatever it is, I will read it.
The collection of short stories that complete this book are set in the Middle East and take you on a diverse and cultural journey. The stories are harsh yet beautiful, sad yet humorous, and simple, while portraying the complexity of each situation. No story feels as though it has ended, and I think this speaks of the real uncertainty of the world; that nobody really knows what’s going to happen next.
This is an important book. It speaks truth of the best and worst of human nature, and Friedlander tells these stories with a compassionate and powerful pen. A debut that will be talked about for years to come.
One thing that really resonated with me throughout the whole story was the innocence and untainted views of the children. Their acceptance of each other despite the cultural or religious differences of their families.
This book is expected to be released 4th August 2022. Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC.
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