Wednesday, October 5, 2011

REVIEW: Almost Dead, by Assaf Gavron

Almost Dead, by Assaf Gavron. Published 2010 by Harper Perennial. Literary Fiction.

Eitan Enoch has the worst luck, or the best luck, of anyone in Israel. "Croc," as he's known to his friends, works for a tech company that's slowly going under; he's their star performer but his life starts to fall apart as he survives not one or two but three suicide bombing attacks. After the third, he becomes a celebrity of sorts- and a target, a symbol of survival to some Israelis and a symbol of frustration to the Palestinians behind the series of attacks in which he's enmeshed. Meanwhile, he’s crumbling under the weight of his trauma and his celebrity. Gavron tells the story from the alternating perspectives of Croc and Fahmi Sabih, a bomber who lies in a coma, and slowly and inexorably, the two men come together for the finale.

Almost Dead is the latest by Israeli writer Assaf Gavron to be published in the United States (his most recent book, Hydromania, has yet to come out here). Gavron, a gourmand as well as a thriller writer, is also known for a book he published about felafel. The dual perspectives he offers in Almost Dead mean that Gavron explores the conflict from two points of view. On one hand, we have Croc, a relatively benign and clueless guy who gets caught up in events beyond his ken. He just wants to live his life but the bombings force on him an identity bigger than what he wants. On the other, Fahmi's story is the inverse, that of someone who wants his life to be bigger than it is. Both men are compelling and engaging characters. Gavron has written an excellent, taut, well-paced thriller with a strong undercurrent of black comedy and satire.

I enjoyed Almost Dead as both a thriller and a satire, although the satiric elements lessen as the story progresses. It's hard for me to say where Gavron is politically here; certainly he's sympathetic to his Palestinian character to a point, and he portrays the conflict as tragic on both sides. The book has a lot of great detail about modern Israeli life and I don't think the reader needs to have a detailed understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict to enjoy the book but it probably helps. It would make a great read for most readers of popular and literary fiction interested in secular Israeli life (there is almost no religious content) and an interesting, edgy choice for a book club. I would actually love to discuss this book in a club setting, but it would probably never happen given the sensitivity of the subject matter. In any case Almost Dead is a great book for an adventurous reader and I hope to see more from Gavron soon.

Rating: BACKLIST

An abbreviated version of this review will appear in the Association of Jewish Libraries' newsletter.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.