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Silwan by Philip Graubart

four stars

silwanPhilip Graubart’s Silwan is that rare hybrid, a truly thrilling murder mystery and a thoughtful meditation on one of the most complex conflicts in recent history, that between Israel and Palestine. The main character is Judah Loeb, a crime reporter for the L.A. Times and author of a few true-crime books. Judah is twice divorced, with one fifteen-year-old daughter, Hannah, and trying desperately to stay relevant in a profession that is rapidly dying. When approached by an old college friend, Cliff Reynolds, an assistant to the secretary of state and a possible member of a “semi-secret” intelligence agency, to travel to Israel in order to write an investigative piece exploring why all attempts at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians fail, Judah jumps at the chance. Judah, however, is not really interested in the assignment as much as he is interested in reconnecting with Ilana, his college girlfriend, now married to Moshe, Judah’s former college roommate. Moshe is an activist who spends most of his time defending Palestinians, particularly in the Silwan area, a Palestinian neighborhood on the fringes of old Jerusalem, the site of intense conflict, as more and more Israelis attempt to settle in the area.

Once Judah arrives in Israel, however, with his intrepid daughter Hannah, he quickly realizes there is more going on than some simple investigative journalism. Moshe is arrested for murdering a Palestinian boy whom he mentored, and Judah is drawn into the investigation and back into his obsession with Ilana, who still cannot, or will not, explain why she broke off their relationship so many years ago. Graubart’s story is intricate, and the many twists and turns will keep any reader interested in the story. Furthermore, Judah is an intriguing and empathetic character, one of Graubart’s strong points, and even apparently minor characters seem to spring from the page, fully formed. Graubart’s take on the Israel-Palestinian conflict is fascinating as well, but never heavy handed enough to distract you from the many mysteries Judah tries to solve. The ending of the novel will leave readers satisfied, but wanting more of Graubart’s skillful storytelling.

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