Vivid and all-too-believable thriller of Arab terrorism in Israel, told from a feminist viewpoint by children's author Sofer (Shalom, Haver, p. 751, a tribute to Yitzhak Rabin). Jewish scientist Deborah Stern and Arab homemaker Raba Alhassan were both raised in America. In Israel, they find themselves married to fatuous husbands who are more concerned with religion and prestige than with providing emotional support for their wives. In Sofer's sometimes clunky and slow-burning first novel, both women become unwilling recruits, Deborah with Israel's General Security Service, Raba with a fictional Arab terrorist group called Seventh Century. Sofer pushes her story forward with telling portraits of Arab and Israeli domesticity and a closely focused romantic subplot in which vulnerability and uncertainty become oddly sexy. Deborah, a medical researcher, loathes her husband's sudden infatuation with Jewish Orthodoxy. Raba, a psychologist, is embarrassed by her half-witted brother, Ibrahim, who suddenly becomes a hero in her abysmally poor Gaza Strip village when he murders four defenseless Israeli women. Having herself narrowly escaped Ibrahim's violence, Deborah is attracted to, and recruited by, Raphi Lahav, an undercover agent for the GSS. At the same time, Raba, who is pregnant, is compelled by the terrorist Abed Shahada to become part of one of his schemes. The two women are soon positioned by their respective antagonists inside a Bethlehem school, where Abed plans to take Jewish children hostage. Sofer's inept dialogue and tendency to dwell on her characters' confusion stalls the suspense at the outset, but when the terrorists finally strike, the book builds to a deftly choreographed slugfest as Raphi and Abed fight it out while Deborah and Raba, both victims of Abed's sadism, try to save themselves. On balance, a superb exploration of the Arab-Israeli conflict that's in many ways superior to le CarrÇ's Little Drummer Girl for its well-informed insight into the subtle horrors and fugitive joys of life under siege.
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