Suspenseful and serious thriller from Littell (Legends, 2005, etc.) depicts the Middle East as a place in which positions are depressingly circular, behavior remorselessly vicious.
Fundamentalist rabbi Isaac Apfulbaum gets himself kidnapped by fundamentalist terrorist Dr. Isma’l al-Shaath, triggering a crisis noteworthy even in that crisis-ridden land. The ensuing demands follow a familiar enough pattern. The Israeli government, it’s told, must release scores of Palestinian prisoners. Failure to do so will result in the rabbi’s execution. Of course, the deadline is tight. Legendary Mossad spymaster Elihu is called out of retirement because so much hangs in the balance. A peace plan brokered by the US looks as if it might actually succeed. Agreed to by both contending parties, it’s scheduled for signing in Washington in just nine days. But every Middle East expert worth the label knows that if the kidnapped rabbi becomes a defunct rabbi, all bets are off. The Israelis will do what’s necessary to collect their eye for an eye, and the vengeance cycle will be freshly minted. “We both live by the same creed,” a weary and discouraged Elihu says, with some bitterness. “One of them will exact vengeance, then we’ll exact vengeance for vengeance.” Meanwhile, an unexpected bond is being forged. The rabbi and his captor, both radicals, ferocious religionists and would-be messiahs, have discovered a kindred spirit. If things had been different, the doctor says to the rabbi, “you would have been my brother.” But things aren’t different, and in the blood-soaked dénouement, brotherhood, of course, comes up short.
Authoritative, sharply observed, remarkably evenhanded—neither side gets a free pass here—and, as usual, first-rate.