Debut author Benjamin weaves a suspenseful mystery set in the Middle East into a deeper meditation on the powerful allure of home or, in this case, a land of one’s own.
Jeannie is a former Israeli soldier and now an investigator for the Shabbak (once known as the Shin Bet). Her father was instrumental in founding Oranit, a new village established in fiercely disputed territory that straddles the border of Israeli and Palestinian controlled lands. An Arab helps with the construction of a controversial wall meant to symbolize the autonomy of Oranit as a village and the political sovereignty of its inhabitants. The Arab, Mahmud, turns up dead, and it’s quickly and not unreasonably assumed he was murdered by the vengeful PLO, enraged over his cooperation with Israeli settlers. A bullet casing is found, however, and new evidence opens up the case, implicating Mitch, the popular and powerful chairman of the village council. When the murder appears to connect to another investigation into Mitch’s possible involvement in land fraud and smuggling from Beirut, the stakes soar. The details of the mystery unfurl slowly and often confusedly, sometimes leaving the reader lost within a patchwork narrative that relies heavily on flashbacks and remembrances. Thankfully, close attention is repaid by an astute view of the conflict over land in the Middle East from the perspectives of concrete, human longings. Oranit is saturated with symbolic power: “Oranit was to be their Garden of Eden. When Jeannie first arrived, there was nothing there but a barren patch overlooking a beautiful leafy forest.” Also, a shocking final twist will leave one’s jaw agape.
Not a breezy read and often downright challenging, but worth the effort.