THE MAN ON THE CAMEL by Howard M. Sachar

THE MAN ON THE CAMEL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From a Middle-East historian: an initially intriguing case of alleged espionage--with the unusual phenomenon of a Jewish-Israeli traitor--that turns into a slow, talky, red-herring-littered quest to identify and pin down the mysterious super-villain who's plotting Israel's 1973 destruction. Narrator Yosef Meridor, ex-Intelligence man and a professor who's back in Israel after years in U.S. academia (Israeli academia has treated him ill), is summoned to help Intelligence with a case in Yosef's own family: his cousin Raft, a young radical type disillusioned by combat, is accused of conspiring with local Arabs and a brilliant man in Damascus named Antawabi to aid an Arab attack on an Israeli atomic reactor. And indeed, after hearing from Raft's family, mistress, friends, and the accused himself, Yosef knows that Raft is guilty, even if he was semi-blackmailed into treason. But, as it becomes apparent that the whole Arab operation was intentionally doomed all along, everyone starts wondering about the motives of this erudite mystery-man Antawabi--and Yosef is ordered ""to discover what sort of creature we're dealing with here."" Longwinded sleuthing ensues, those who can identify Antawabi are killed, Yosef is poisoned (just a warning), and he soon comes to believe that Antawabi isn't an Arab patriot but a ""moral freak,"" a ""Jewish Hitler""--namely Moritz Kun, a Jewish concentration-camp Nazi collaborator who has gone on to further Machiavellian evils. His current apparent goal? To destroy Israel (the only country where he can be tried for war crimes) or at least change its Nazi-collaborators law. But Kun's specific plan remains a mystery, and he himself remains elusive--so Yosef reluctantly goes along with an Intelligence plot to use convict-cousin Raft as bait for a Kun trap in the Golan Heights, a disastrous operation; and after war breaks out, Yosef learns what a total dupe he's been--in a showdown with Kun, who (predictably yet implausibly) turns out to be the Least Likely Person. There's lots of absorbing material here: authentic Israeli politics and settings, Yosef's academic snit, some nicely rough-edged supporting characters. But, though ""suggested by events that occurred in 1972 and 1973,"" Sachar's plot slides strangely between close-up realism and seeming fantasy; and the narrative is weighed down with unnecessary rehashes, plus Yosef's blah affair with Raft's tart mistress. Lots of ragged and lumpy moments along with the good ones, then--passable, dense entertainment for readers with a firm interest in the historical/political context.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1980
Publisher: Times Books