An increasingly suspenseful debut novel from the award-winning New Yorker writer (The Rainy Season, 1989) that spins a persuasively elaborate plot from a tragic "incident" at a Jerusalem checkpoint.
During a time of continuing terrorist attacks, Palestinian visitors to the new City are detained by Israeli officer-in-charge Lieutenant Ari Doron: among them are American-born Marina Hajimi, en route with her two-year-old son to visit her husband Hassan, a political prisoner. The asthmatic child, thus denied immediate medical treatment, dies in his mother's arms. The ensuing public outcry is exploited by Israeli and Palestinian spokesmen alike, and several other major characters soon enter the action. Marina's father George Raad, a Boston cardiologist and an Edward Said–like émigré intellectual, flies to his daughter's side in the country he had "abandoned"—and endures a disturbing reunion with his former boyhood friend, radical activist Ahmed Amr ("a wrong-headed Bedouin astride a fiery stallion, recklessly leading boys to their deaths"). The task of protecting the despised Doron (and of orchestrating much-needed damage control) brings in Israeli army veteran Colonel Daniel Yizhar, a wily political realist perfectly willing to use lies in service of "the truth." And the hunt for Doron, who in fact never attempts to hide, or claim he was "only following orders," engages Palestinian brothers Adnan and Mahmoud Sheukhi, the latter of whom burns to prove himself a devout nationalist. The story builds terrific tension as Wilentz draws her several subplots gradually together, and a series of staggered climaxes (including the consequences of Raad's physical and psychic failings, Doron's confused gestures toward expiation, and the fate of Marina's husband Hassan—freed by the Israelis, but unfree of the commitments that engulf him) underscores its bleak, unassailable central themes: that in this helplessly fragmented corner of the world, "everyone was an extremist because everyone wanted things simple" and that "Endings did not happen here."
An impressively savvy political novel that compares interestingly with Robert Stone's Damascus Gate (1998).