Set in Jerusalem in neither the biblical past nor the politically inflamed, gas-mask present but an eerie projection of one over the other, Burstein's novel centers on the persecution of the poet/prophet Jeremiah for warning of the city's destruction.
It's bad enough that Jeremiah gets tossed in a lethal mud (or muck) pit for putting Jerusalem's idol-loving population in a cranky mood; he also gets whacked in the head with his computer keyboard by a famous literary critic. Jeremiah's chief nemesis proves to be his boyhood friend Mattaniah, a tattooed would-be poet whose publishing rate isn't hurt by his being the son of the slain king of Judah. Through a series of troublesome successions, the unfit Mattaniah is made to become King Zedekiah. His great promises for the future include stopping the glaciers from melting and eliminating the use of plastic bags. As for that Babylonian army circling Jerusalem? No worries. As we recently saw with Jo Nesbø's Macbeth, it's not uncommon for novelists and dramatists to employ modern dress to freshen old tales and make them relevant. But Burstein's employment of the device is different. With its trippy overlapping of eras, settings, styles, and sensibilities, the book's dense narrative seems to unfold under a constant fog. Influenced by such masterworks as Philip Roth's scabrous Sabbath's Theater, Joseph Heller's satirical Catch-22, and the modernist works of Thomas Pynchon, the book is alternately hilarious (dig those talking dogs) and gripping in its treatment of the power of words. Ultimately, Burstein delivers page-turning suspense that gains resonance through its relevance to contemporary Israel.
Israeli novelist Burstein's audacious reimagining of events leading to the siege of Jerusalem is a dazzling and dizzying triumph.