Lavie Tidhar, Unholy Land
Lavie Tidhar, Unholy Land, Tachyon Publications, 2018.
I haven't liked what I've read of Lavie Tidhar as much as some reviewers have, but Unholy Land has certainly fascinated me. This tangle of uchronic worlds that some people are able to visit centre around the question of Zionism and identity. I've found it an intriguing novella despite some niggles.
Lior Tirosh, a writer of crime novels, leaves Berlin to go back to Palestine, a piece of land in Central Africa, "donated" by the British to Jewish people in the early 20th century. The Jews have built there a nation but there are tensions with the people the land belonged to in the first place. Lior is also a very confused man: his son may be dead, or maybe not; his niece has disappeared and he wants to investigate. Special Agent Bloom keeps an eye on him, but it seems Special Agent Bloom comes from another Palestine. To say nothing of Nur, who comes from an entirely different Palestine.
I am going to start by explaining my major quibble with this work. Lior Tirosh is an avatar of Lavie Tidhar. Tirosh has written a novel called Osama, for instance, and they have the same initials. I don't enjoy meta as much as I did in the past, and in this book, it also created a distance between Tirosh and me. I felt that it was such a personal novel that I had no place in it.
Nonetheless, the other characters are interesting. I particularly enjoyed Nur, though I regret that she wasn't more developed and that her ending felt to me a bit swept under the rug.
Unholy Land is above all a bold interrogation of Zionism. It doesn't attempt to provide any answer but walls and conflicts abound. And yet, in some worlds people leave in peace. And yet, in some worlds, there was no genocide. And yet...
I think this is the great strength of the book: by choosing a portal fantasy where all the worlds we glimpse (except one) are uchronias, it attempts to explore this complicated, often awful, history and its consequences.
I would have loved a longer exploration of some worlds which are barely hinted at. Tidhar uses wide brushstrokes which are tantalising, but the story remains focused.
I think Unholy Land will particularly appeal to readers who are looking for SFF that will give them food for thought or who enjoy multiverse stories.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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