Maror

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Pub Date 04 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 04 Aug 2022

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Description

'A masterpiece of the sacred and the profane... A literary triumph.' Jake Arnott, Guardian

How do you build a nation?

It takes statesmen and soldiers, farmers and factory workers, of course. But it also takes thieves, prostitutes and policemen.

Nation-building demands sacrifice. And one man knows exactly where those bodies are buried: Cohen, a man who loves his country. A reasonable man for unreasonable times.

A car bomb in the back streets of Tel Aviv. A diamond robbery in Haifa. Civil war in Lebanon. Rebel fighters in the Colombian jungle. A double murder in Los Angeles.

How do they all connect? Only Cohen knows.

Maror is the story of a war for a country's soul – a dazzling spread of narrative gunshots across four decades and three continents.

It is a true story. All of these things happened.

Praise for Maror:

'A bloody beast of a book.' Daily Mail
'This is crime writing in the tradition of Balzac and Dickens and a major achievement, full of sound, fury, drugs and blood... An earthquake of a book.' CrimeTime
'Some write in ink, others in song, Tidhar writes in fire... Maror is a kaleidoscopic masterpiece, immense in its sympathies, alarming in its irreverences and altogether exhilarating.' Junot Díaz
'One of the boldest, most visionary writers I've ever read creates both a vivid political exploration and a riveting crime epic. It's like the Jewish Godfather!' Silvia Moreno-Garcia
'Maror blends the page-turning wit of a hard-boiled detective noir with the stirring intrigue of a multi-national political epic. An ambitious achievement that weaves a tapestry of both story and statement.' Kevin Jared Hosein
'Radiant with [...] the richly nuanced complexity and style of Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings ... Will catch your breath as it presents the history of Israel from unique points of view, with dazzling multi-generational scope.' LoveReading

'A masterpiece of the sacred and the profane... A literary triumph.' Jake Arnott, Guardian

How do you build a nation?

It takes statesmen and soldiers, farmers and factory workers, of course. But it...


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Featured Reviews

First, I'd like to thank Head of Zeus and Netgalley for providing me with an early copy of the novel in return for an honest review.

I've been a fan of the author for quite some time, and read several of his novels. The first thing that stands out with Maror is that it's unlike anything else he's ever written. Of course his energetic style, vividness of descriptions, and vivacious characters are all there, but this time - there is no speculative component. The book is a retelling of Israel's nationbuilding through the lens of its criminal underbelly, taking inspiration from multiple real-life events that occurred in Israel between 1970 and 2001 (roughly). The amount of research that has gone into this book is truly impressive - the author brings to life (albeit hypothetically) pivotal historical events and the characters that shaped them, with the fictional character Cohen involved in each story. You don't really know if Cohen is a villain or a saint, and in some ways he represents to id of the Israeli nation (perhaps?). The painstaking detail the author pays to the music of each period is also deeply impressive, as it provides a red thread of the emotional torrent in each period (from nationalistic fervour to individualistic hedonism).

I really enjoyed this book and also think it can be a great (and fun) introduction to Israel for people who've only read about the political side of it. The author quotes Bialik (a famous Jewish poet) in saying: "We shall only have a true state when we have our own Hebrew thief, our own Hebrew whore, and our own Hebrew murderer", and this, for me, epitomises the purpose of the author in embarking on this journey.

My one peeve with this book is that I felt the ending to be too open-ended. While I understand the choice to do it this way, I also can't but feel that something is missing for me in giving the entire narrative more purpose and more closure. Maybe it's just me, and others will find this ending congruent with the rest of the narrative.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that I'm not sure how much of this book will be accessible to people who don't know Israel or indeed its underbelly. I happen to know it, and found the book easy to follow and understand, identifying the real events that inspired the episodes in the book. It's hard for me to judge what impact it will have on those who've no familiarity with this topic at all.

Either way, if you have any interest in Israel as a nation, or just like the author's style, it's a must read.

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This was the first book that I have read by this author and gosh, what a book to start with. The writing style, the plotline, the characters and the way they were developed were all incredible. It is based upon a period of history that I am not fully aware of or know much information about but the wealth of knowledge in this book made it obvious that the author had researched very highly and had seamlessly put that knowledge/research down on the page.
There are so many elements to this book that I am still processing it but all I can say is that it is simply stunning and definitely a must read.

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Tidhar is a great storyteller, he can write any genre he wants to write. I have enjoyed his stories of the future, his ucronías, his superheroes, and now this historical novel that narrates different moments of the darkest history of Israel. I really liked the different voices that he proposes and the structure in short stories with time jumps.

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Who can forget the savage, musical James Ellroy prose circa the L.A. Quartet books? Now we have a successor and fittingly, the action takes place in modern Israel. Lavie Tidhar, a marvelous multi-genre author who never fails to delight, has now penned his noir opus, "Maror." Spanning over three decades from the early seventies, it is the amoral tale of the underbelly of Israeli society, sitting on the shoulders of the nation's cops (always corrupt), thieves, drug runners, whores, and assassins. Written with a relentless rhythm (allied to disparate music of the times) and scabrous, tough-as-nails prose, different parts of Israel feature, as well as Mexico, war-riven Lebanon, steamy Colombian jungles, and elsewhere. And every story features the enigmatic kingpin Cohen, a senior policeman pulling the strings while quoting flowery sayings and exerting a charismatic pull on all around him. Maror is a heady, nonstop brew of terror, violence, and mayhem, while also exuding swathes of coursing humanity. Deserves to be a cult classic, if not an award winner.

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Part of why I read is to learn about things I don’t know and, although I have studied a little of its history I have a big gap in my knowledge of Israel so some googling was in order. Israel is the size of Wales with a population close to that of London. Tel Aviv’s population is roughly the same as Bristol’s. Maror are the bitter herbs eaten at the Passover Seder; an enticing indication of what’s to come.
First we are introduced to Avi. He’s a bit of a shambles – he needs to sleep more and drink and snort less but he’s likeable nonetheless. Avi’s a cop. But that’s not even half the story. The person we really need to get to know is Cohen. Cohen has seen it all. And done most of it too.
Maror is written in such a way that I was immediately drawn in. Short sentences, plain language. Exposition is achieved by stealth, for example describing three people that walk past to show the diversity of the place. It’s subtly done and that’s no mean feat when dealing with such a complex subject as Israel, particularly in the period covered by the book. I’m still digesting the many strands of the story and think it’ll require a re-read to fully appreciate the wealth of characters and events, most of which actually happened. Cracking stuff.

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Through a variety of interconnected characters, spanning time and place, Tidhar takes us on a journey not only through Israel's criminal underworld, but across Israel's history itself. With wonderful attention to detail, Tidhar draws upon historical events as well as his own Israeli insight to create a fascinating, interwoven tale that kept me turning page after page.
I fully admit that my knowledge of Israel and its history is lacking and I therefore found myself learning throughout this novel. No doubt I also missed a lot of detail that one familiar with the country would pick up on. Tidhar has created a cast of fascinating characters that tell their own individual stories, which are carefully crafted to interconnect with each another. One character is a common thread throughout, Cohen.
Drug dealing, murders, unsolved crimes, war, export of arms, this novel has it all. My only real gripe is the ending, I really would've liked more although I understand why the author has chosen this route. Otherwise, this is a novel that I think I will reread in the future, in fact I think I'd possibly get more out of it then, now that my knowledge of Israel's recent history has been improved somewhat!

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I've come to Lavie Tidhar from his fantasy and science fiction work, but while none of that was any great respecter of genre boundaries, this is still very clearly something different. The obvious thing to call it would be an attempt at the Great Israeli Novel, but with the proviso that its models are in that overlap of writers trying to do the Great American Novel by way of crime. I'm thinking in particular of James Ellroy, though bear in mind that's coming from someone who only read two fairly early Ellroys a good few years back and found that plenty. And it was when the prose here felt the most like it was reaching for his incantatory power that I felt least convinced by it:
"Avi went still.
Avi went cold.
Ramzi closed his eyes.
His chest stopped moving.
Avi let the gun drop."

Thankfully, most of Maror isn't like that. And it has the edge over Ellroy that where he's riffing on generations of other books and films about bad shit going down in LA, relocating all those damaged veterans and drug deals and shady land trades to the far end of the Mediterranean instantly changes the story, even before you factor in the suicide bombs and the long wars and the differences in culture. Which, without being overdone, give a real sense of a world and a life that are the same in many respects as the Anglosphere...yet not. As a British reader, I have at least a sort of osmotic familiarity with most of the bands and shows and brands and films that get dropped into US crime stories to build a sense of place and particularity, but here some of the names are the same and others really aren't. Likewise with the incidents, as the characters twine around each other over the long, violent decades: sometimes I know a war or an assassination is coming, but a scandal or a disaster can still blindside me. The main currents of history, though – well. We open in the early 21st century on Cohen, a cop so bad even Vic Mackie would do a sharp intake of breath, then flash back to the seventies, and gradually see how the fresh-faced young investigator ended up like that. In amongst all the explosions, serial killings, double-crosses and other genre staples, though, I think the most painful I found the reading experience was when the narrative hit the nineties, where in Israel as so many places it seemed like there was a chance of peace, a new world no longer defined by the feuds and hatreds of the past. And there as elsewhere, we all know now how that ended.

Tidhar being Tidhar, of course, he's not going to let himself do anything so plodding as a straight Whither Israel? novel. Little nods to his SF sneak in; a bookseller who mostly makes his money from drugs nowadays has a picture on his wall of the Central Station which, in Tidhar's book of the same name, was actually built – and I feel like the bookseller himself may also have cropped up in that book and/or Unholy Land. Not every gesture works; each chapter opens with a quote, usually from within itself, but when the chapters aren't long this mainly serves to get a bit 'do you see?' with the apposite ones ("Land is a tricky business," yes, very good) and feel like it's reaching the rest of the time. The section set in the 1982 Lebanon war takes all of its chapter titles from Duran Duran songs, for no reason I found terribly clear; surely even if you wanted to go New Romantic then the Human League would have been the obvious choice? But overall, it builds into something with enough tragic sweep and granularity that I feel it was worth the reading; certainly not my favourite Tidhar, but way ahead of the ones that weren't for me at all. And hell, as with Adrian Tchaikovksy, even if you're not quite sold on one there'll be another along in a minute; this isn't out until August, but the main reason I've got around to finishing it now is that I already have another Netgalley ARC of his next one afterwards, and that looks right up my street.

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"'I wouldn't do that,' it said. 'If I were you. One gives you life and the other knowledge, and you're too young to need either one just yet.' 'You're a snake,' Avi said. 'No shit,' the snake said.'"

Maror is a raw account of the unspoken rules that keep society running, find a way to manage the black markets and the unethical deals trusted officials will make to maintain state funding. Set in Israel, Maror explores the foundations that underpin the young state, through a non-linear timeline, multiple protagonists and a variety of challenges, including kidnapping, terrorist financing, the drug trade, oligarchs taking Israeli passports to preserve assets and unsolved serial killings.

The book delivers when it comes to nuance and awareness of the conflict in the region, without overtly taking a side and reflecting the raw deal everyone involved gets. Political affiliations and international relations ultimately boil down to nothing in the name of achieving end goals though, with enemies enemies becoming friends, when the time calls for it.

"Life dictated a path and you followed it, and it didn't matter how often you dressed up as an astronaut for Purim, there was still no fucking way you were going to set foot on the moon".

It's rare to find a Jewish fiction. Even rarer to find one that focuses on Jewish existence outside of the Holocaust. 5/5. Will read again. Will buy for all my friends too.

Thank you to NetGalley for the Arc.

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If Tarantino wrote a political crime thriller, this would be it.

Maror is a swirling vortex of crime, violence, crosses and double-crosses, terrorists and drug-runners, serial killers, rapists, and fraudsters, all enmeshed in the social fabric of the new Israeli state.

And in the middle of it all, like Shelob in her lair, or an imperturbable Mr Wolff in Pulp Fiction, the policeman Cohen manipulates politicians, colleagues and crime bosses alike, in service of the country that he loves.

As in everything else he does, Tidhar takes the concept of the political thriller to the nth degree: over the four decades of the book, the nation of Israel moves from a nascent country struggling to establish itself to a fully modern society that has moved away from the traditions (family, kibbutzim, loyal army service) and cohesion of its inception becoming, in the process, a thriving part of the international drug business.

Tidhar juxtaposes these criminal events (with only a little detective work, enough episodes can be corroborated to make the rest credible) with the turbulent politics of the post-1967 war era. In this most searching novel of his career, he questions how the high ideals of Israel’s original founders have exploded with corruption and death, and whether this is inevitable in a capitalist structure – as one (or a country) accumulates property, so does one attract those who would benefit from this wealth.

Tidhar uses the popular songs of the respective decades to underline the move from innocence to moral sophistication, and to highlight the mood of the nation; and while his prose is unadorned, he draws a convincingly vivid picture of Israeli society at this time.

With an explosive climax to rival the last scenes of The Godfather 1, and superb world-building, Maror deserves a Pulitzer every bit as much as The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

My thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book.

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This was such a good book. I love historical fiction, especially when it is about eras/ situations that I previously knew nothing about and this was definitely one of those books. It was so well researched and so compelling in its narrative that not only did I love reading it but I felt that I learned too. A really enjoyable read and perfect for any fans of historical fiction. This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.

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I think I misread the initial blurb for this book when I requested it from.Netgalley.. I read about 100 pages and thought about abandoning it as the subject matter wasn’t really me. For some reason I carried on reading and I’m so glad that I did!
I can’t claim to know much about Israel/Palestine or their history so this novel was really informative. I felt I learnt a lot about politics and the murky underbelly of the drug cartels operating.in this area. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the book

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A journal through the Israeli underworld, this is an epic, sweeping saga with drug dealing, murder, violence and history. It might help to have a little knowledge of Israeli history as keys moments from that countries past feature centrally here, and Tidhar doesn't take the easy route of leading his reader by the hand.

The writing is uniformly excellent, tense and thrilling. This is intelligent crime writing and highly recommended.

Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for the ARC.

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I have never heard of Lavie Tidhar before but was intrigued by the premise of Maror. The meaning of the Hebrew word maror is bitter herbs, and the title encapsulates the book perfectly.

Descrobed as a state-of-the nation book the publicity blurb goes as follows:
'Across four decades and three continents, Lavie Tidhar seeks to give an answer. It takes statesmen and soldiers, farmers and factory workers, of course. But it also takes thieves, prostitutes and policemen. Nation-building demands sacrifice. And one man knows exactly where those bodies are buried: Cohen, a man who loves his country. A reasonable man for unreasonable times. '

So, Maror is a complex multi-generational saga that veers between the political landscape of modern Israel and gangsters who run riot, hunted down by the main character, Cohen. I sensed residual anger on the part of the writer as the book progressed and I wonder if he felt this while writing the book?

As a secular Jewish woman who first visited Israel soon after the Six Day War I found the book riveting but wonder who the audience for it will be? For me the Israelis in the story are not shown in a good light and I worry that in today's clmate this may well feed anti-Semites and anti-Zionists, and more hatred of Jews. It is the book that Mr Tidhar 'has always wanted to write' but I didn't find any redeeming characters who might have given a more balanced view of modern Israel. Nevertheless I give Maror 5*.

For those who do not know, until 1947 when the United Nations partition plan created the State of Israel and the ending of the British Mandate dating from after the First World War, the area was known as Palestine. The Jews and Arabs who co-existed there were collectively Palestinians but usually referred to as Jews and Arabs.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus/Apollo for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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There is so much in this book. It's about big things like nation building an criminal syndicates, and small things like families and parties. It's about whether the end justifies the means, or if using that logical is a perversion. It's about people as ciphers for countries, it's about men and what they do to women and to each other. Look, I read it, I loved it, but I don't really know what it was about.
it's certainly a compelling read, although be warned it has a slightly non-traditional narrative structure, which did work well for the story that was being told but occasionally annoyed me.

To sum up - I'm glad I read this and i'm still working out what it is I'm taking way from it.

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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As I started this book, I wasn't sure, but I persevered and was rewarded, I really got into it and enjoyed it. It is the story of Israel, from the birth of the nation to the present day. It is told from a perspective of criminality, corruption, drugs, guns, violence and extortion, the armed forces and the police,
Some chapters laboured a little but others were wonderful. It straddles decades and continents and you wonder how it all connects, but it does. Very good.

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Maror by Lavie Tidhar is a beautifully written and engaging novela that tells the story of a man searching for his true identity. The novella is structured as a series of interconnected vignettes that chronicle the protagonist's journey of self-discovery. Each vignette is a piece of a puzzle that gradually comes together to reveal the protagonist's traumatic past and the events that shaped his life.

Tidhar's writing style is poetic and evocative, making for a captivating and immersive reading experience. The novella's plot is intriguing and thought-provoking, with twists and turns that keep the reader engaged until the very end.

The novella's exploration of trauma and identity is both powerful and nuanced, with the protagonist's journey serving as a metaphor for the human experience of searching for meaning and purpose. The novella's themes of memory, trauma, and identity are expertly woven into the plot, making for a deeply moving and memorable read. Overall, Maror is a captivating novella that showcases Tidhar's exceptional storytelling skills and is sure to leave a lasting impression on its readers.

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Maror is a story of war and corruption. Jumping between 4 decades and 3 countries this book has the potential to loose you in a complicated story line but the writing weaves the characters together so well that this isn't the case.

However, because it intertwines so many stories it's quite difficult to explain what happens. The character who stays throughout and links everything together is police officer Cohen. The book includes police, a lot of corruption, a lot of murder and a lot of drugs. All of this takes place alongside a changing Israel. Although a work of fiction whilst looking up reviews of the book I've discovered that many of the characters are based on real people involved with politics in Israel throughout the 4 decades the book is set. None of which are given particularly favourable storylines within the book.

The book definitely takes a lot of concentration but it's definitely worth while in the end.

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This was my first time reading anything by Tidhar and it won't be the last, because the writing and the author's attention to detail was fantastic. Maror is a complex book, that spans across history and place, and has a considerable cast of characters - some of whom we don't get to spend enough time with. I am not as familiar with the history as I could me, so I felt like I learned a lot throughout, although there were some notable thread that wasn't really touched on - Palestine. Beyond that though this was an involved, expansive crime novel that didn't let itself be bound by that definition. The only thing beside that omission that let it down for me was the ending, which although it made sense and closed out the novel and its threads, felt not lacking - so as much as it could have been more?

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I have only read Lavie Tidhar's science fiction work, but that is so well-written and character driven that I had no doubt that he would be able to operate in a different genre. Maror is crime fiction, or to be more precise political crime fiction. It starts with what appears to be a terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv, and our appropriately scuzzy and deadbeat cop slowly unravels a case that starts to look more like organised crime. And a little more unraveling and he discovers that it might be organized crime but one of the organized parties is the police themselves. And it all seems to go back to one man - Cohen - not quite a Police Chief but he's always been there, and he's always been involved (and no-one likes him).

This is the first fifty pages of the book, and suddenly we are whipped thirty years back in time to the early seventies were Cohen is a fresh-faced cop and there might be a serial killer on the loose. Cohen is never our viewpoint character, we waft in and out of the stories of other cops, journalists, criminals, and in one notable segment an actress cum drill instructor cum drug dealer. But Cohen is always there, slowly becoming more resigned to the ever-darkening grey areas within which he operates. That serial killer pops back up too as connective tissue, Cohen was related to the first victim and therefore has a personal stake in how or who is fitted up for the crime. And this is full of dirty deeds done pretty cheaply.

Whilst I think narratively that the serial killer plot is wrapped up a bit early and the actual ending isn't quite as punchy as I expected it to be, there is no denying that this is pretty brilliant stuff. It's crime fiction where the crimes become cumulative, where the idea of corruption and organized crime are exactly what a new nation requires for a certain kind of legitimacy. The book constantly touches on the Israeli state, there is a section about how illegal settlements become legal when no-one chases them down (and that this is broadly state policy anyway who cares). But it is a book about a rotten state being built that way. If the state is built on violence, then violence will permeate every aspect of it. None of this is ever done didactically, it reads like the grand thirty-year crime opus it is, and of course by the end it dares us to not just understand, but to even like Cohen.

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4,25 / 5

Conocido por su amplísima obra dentro de la fantasía y la ciencia ficción, Lavie Tidhar estrena en este 2022 el casillero de novelas de ficción fuera de estos géneros trayéndonos una obra situada principalmente en Israel a medio camino entre la ficción histórica, la novela detectivesca y el thriller. De hecho, según el propio autor, todo lo que aquí se cuenta es real.

Un coche bomba a principios de nuestro siglo nos introduce a Cohen, un inspector de policía al más puro estilo Villarejo español, cuyas redes se extienden más allá del cuerpo policial israelí al que pertenece. Cuando empezamos a atisbar el alcance del tejido del cual forma parte central Tidhar nos lleva a la década de los años setenta donde conoceremos a un joven Cohen y los acontecimientos que le hicieron llegar a ser quien es en los 2000.

Maror se cuenta a través de múltiples pequeñas historias desde los setenta hasta entrado nuestro siglo. En cada una de ellas iremos conociendo diversos personajes. En la casi totalidad de ellas Cohen es un secundario que mueve sus hilos para favorecer a los estratos altos de Israel. Visitaremos Los Ángeles cuando la cocaína era abiertamente consumida, la jungla colombiana con tropas de las FARC siendo entrenadas por policías israelíes, o entraremos en el Líbano para resolver un problema inmobiliario. Todo ello da forma a la historia de Cohen y, en paralelo, la de la propia Israel.

Escrita con el particular estilo sarcástico y crudo de Tidhar, Maror es una gran novela que no descarto llegue en castellano a alguna editorial generalista. Una estructura en espiraldonde su final no conecta del todo con el inicio, pero donde todo se relaciona en forma de gigantesco puzle cuyas piezas esperan ser juntadas para intentar arreglar las vidas de todos aquellos (y no son pocos) que la dieron por un supuesto bien común.

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Lavie Tidhar could write a shopping list and I would be happy to read and rate it 5*. That said you read the first page of this book and you know it will be a treat even if it's something more on the historical fiction/noir, an alternate retelling of the story of Israel.
A great book that i strongly recommend.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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Maror is kind of hard to describe - it contains so much, covers so much ground and introduces so many characters, that a review risks missing the wood for the trees.

A lengthy book, in which Tidhar seems to enjoy the opportunity to swoop and circle his themes, it's a study of modern Israel, dramatised and explored using the lives of a varied bunch of characters. If you've read Tidhar's By Force Alone and The Hood, described as the "anti-Matter of Britain", which deconstruct the heroic myths of, especially, England, you might see some similarities in Maror although the latter is strictly realist - no magic, and cops rather than warriors (though drugs do feature here as in those books. There are also some allusions to Tidhar's SF - for example, I spotted a reference to the cover of his Central Station short story collection).

What we have is a book written in eighteen (shortish) parts which jump around different locations in Isreal, Lebanon, and further afield, mostly moving forward in time but occasionally jumping back to show earlier events. The almost-common theme is Cohen, policeman, crime boss, spy, husband, father, grandfather and so much more. It becomes clear early on that he is corrupt, indeed we see how this comes about, but Tidhar is quite shifty about what this amounts to. Is it a necessary corruption, Cohen doing the things that can't be seen to have official sanction? Or is he just on the make?

I suspect the truth is somewhere in between, with the consequences you'd expect: we see a murder enquiry deliberately botched to pin the blame on an innocent man, a journalist pressured to suppress inconvenient truths about dodgy land deals in the West Bank, and, as I have said, drug dealing and gangsterism on a grand scale, exploiting (or even driving) Israel's conflict in Lebanon. That trade also takes us to South America where drugs, mercenaries and crime bosses occupy a shifty, overlapping space. (There are many deaths in this book).

Alongside the cynical counter-history, Tidhar also gives a vivid portrayal of Israel - weaving in three decades of music with a sensual portrayal of young people living their lives (a fascinating tapestry, that, of kibbutzniks, youth workers, journalists, rookie cops and many others), of the food, the bewildering contrasts between different corners of what is a very small country. Political events make an impression, with hopes for peace undercut by repeated incursions into Lebanon and, eventually, by assassination and by a shift in the mood of the politics. There is a sense of decaying idealism, but also a recognition of wrongs buried in the founding history of the land: Arab villages that are no more, bodies buried on the beach. Cohen knows where the bodies are buried, he may have just some of them there himself, but best not talk about that...

Maror is a terrific read, well-observed, absorbing, deploying a vast number of characters and allowing them to come to life across years of time and miles of distance, some patterns recurring and others broken. It is a book with great humanity, showing people living their lives around great - and sometimes terrible - events.

Strongly recommended.

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Science fiction and fantasy writer Lavie Tidhar turns to the very real history of Israel in his latest novel, Maror. This is not the first time Tidhar has used Israel as a setting for his work. But his award-winning Central Station is set around a Tel Aviv spaceport, and the multiversal Unholy Land imagines a state of Israel established in Uganda. Maror, by contrast, is based squarely on real events between 1976 and 2003. There are no speculative fiction bells and whistles here. Instead there is a peeling away of any veneer of respectability from the state’s founders and a glimpse of the underbelly of Israeli history.
Maror is a noir view of that history in the vein of James Ellroy’s Underworld USA trilogy (American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, Blood’s a Rover) in which the America of the 1950s and 60s was reinterpreted through the eyes of the corrupt. The opening section of Maror, set in Tel Aviv in 2003 and featuring drugged-out cop Avi smashing his way through an investigation into the attempted car-bomb murder of a mob boss, feels like it is riffing on the cops in Ellroy’s LA Quartet, right down to the stripped-back narrative.
Following this twisted introduction, the narrative goes back to 1976 and from there proceeds chronologically through Israeli history. Benny’s rise from small-time hood to crime boss is chronicled, as is the rise of Eddie, an idealistic but corrupted police constable to commissioner, the vicissitudes of crusading journalist Sylvie, and Avi’s early years. As it progresses, the narrative takes in all of the key points of Israeli history – the first political win by the right-wing Likud party 30 years after the foundation of the State, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the training of drug cartels by ex-Israeli military, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. All of these events are recontextualised by Tidhar, who follows the money, the power and the corruption.
While Maror is historical, it is more of a piece with Tidhar’s more recent works based on British mythology both in tone and structure. By Force Alone reinvents the Arthurian legend, presenting a king and his crew steeped in corruption and a lust for power. The Hood does something similar to the story of Robin Hood. Both By Force Alone and The Hood are structured similarly to Maror – a series of connected stories, told reasonably chronologically with the main actor of the piece often in the background. In Maror that character is Cohen, a corrupt policeman who is seemingly pulling the strings of much of the action. Cohen is the spirit of Tidhar’s version of Israel – a true believer, justifying everything he does as being for the good of the country, a man for whom the ends will always justify the means, whether that is fitting up a man with an intellectual disability as a murderer, or staging a car bomb for his own personal ends. Cohen is never the point of view character but he is always there, in the background, manoeuvring, manipulating and scheming.
In this context, even readers who are unaware of details of the tragic shooting of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 can understand why the moderate centre could not hold; why, in the end, money and ideology would win out over a desire for peace.
Maror is the word for the bitter herbs eaten by Jews at Passover, recalling the bitterness of the years of slavery. But here it takes on another meaning, of the bitterness, the corruption, that lies behind the myth of the state of Israel. It is based on the idea that this state is no different to any other, driven by money and grifters, but ironically this is seen as a success. In some ways, therefore, this is not a repudiation of Israeli history but rather an acknowledgement that it is driven by many of the same forces that underpin the histories of other western democracies.
Maror is a profane, irreverent, scathing, sometimes blackly humorous and often compassionate fever-dream history of Israel. It feels like the novel that Tidhar, already an award-winner for his speculative fiction, has been building up to, the perfect storm of his own history and interest in the state of Israel but also his clear fascination with the striving for, and the machinations of, power. Confronting, illuminating and thought-provoking, Maror is possibly his best yet.

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