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The Killing of Leon Klinghoffer

by Julie Salamon

Pub Date: June 11th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-316-43310-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

The seemingly interminable struggle between Palestinians and Israelis serves as the backdrop to this tale of the seizure of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985.

In this gripping account, former Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporter and critic Salamon (Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein, 2011, etc.) adeptly reveals the parallel lives of the well-educated and privileged wife of the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front and the successful, New York City–bred daughters of abductees Marilyn and Leon Klinghoffer. The author intersperses the domestic dramas and mundane daily routines of both families with the plotting and execution of the terrorist act. Salamon’s storytelling skills imbue this terrible event with personal, relatable dimensions. She describes how the terrorists demanded that Syrian authorities negotiate with Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and transport the hijackers to a friendly Arab state that would provide them asylum. Aboard the ship, the hostages’ conflicting emotions of dread and a need to humanize their captors during the siege is personified by Marilyn. “The young man covered [wheelchair-bound] Leon with a blanket and handed him a cigarette; Marilyn returned the kindness with a hug and a grateful kiss,” writes the author. “ ‘They seemed so middle class,’ she thought, ‘like people you could relate to.’ ” She was proven tragically wrong, however, when they killed Leon and dumped his body into the ocean. Salamon’s account of the strategizing of Palestinian, Israeli, and American diplomats, followed by the soldiers’ captures and subsequent escapes, are as engaging as a spy novel. She extensively recounts the trials of the hijackers and offers lengthy aftermaths for the families. However, her similar attention to the international productions of the opera The Death of Klinghoffer are overlong and do not warrant the same focus.

An engrossing narrative of a notorious act of terror.