Thursday, December 10, 2009

All Viewpoints Present

by Richard North Patterson

If you pick up Exile and read the first couple of chapters, you may be tempted to write it off as an "airport thriller," the term my husband and I use for the types of books that used to be available in airports. Not the highest quality of material - something you could plow through on a long flight or an afternoon on the beach and then promptly forget. Really that is no longer true in airports - some of them have great bookstores, and I end up adding a couple to my carry-on while I am browsing and waiting for my plane. Having said that, Exile initially feels like literary junk food, and I thought I would tire of it long before I reached the end.

I still would not place Patterson in the ranks of the great prose magicians of our time, but his book has more depth than I initially gave it credit for. It is not one that I normally would have picked up, but it was recommended for our group that traveled to Israel. I took it with me to read on the plane (but I did not buy it in the airport! I got it used on for a penny!). Exile is about a nominally American Jewish lawyer and political hopeful (David) who is asked by his former lover Hana Arif (who happens to be Palestinian) to defend her when she is accused of assassinating the Israeli Prime Minister. The Prime Minister character clearly is modeled on Yitzhak Rabin - he is someone who is trying to find a way to peace in Israel, much to the chagrin of both Israeli and Palestinian extremists. The jurisdiction of the case is complicated by the detail that the murder takes place in San Francisco.

Much of the book unfolds like a typical detective/trial story, and those parts dragged a bit for me. The book's great strength is that it s clear that Patterson has done his homework. He delves deeply into the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and develops believable characters who integrate all perspectives into the narrative in a very natural way. There was not much of the educational part of the story that was new to me, as I have read quite a bit about the Middle East, but Patterson's book would be a place for a beginner to start. Sometimes the academic works on Israel/Palestine take the human tragedy out of the picture and only focus on policy. Patterson was able to provide a lot of content while keeping a human face on both sides.

I found the ending of Exile unsatisfying, but maybe that is the point. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who may be interested in reading it, so I will just say that there were enough ambiguities left to make the reader wonder if the situation would ever be resolved in a satisfactory way. Kind of like Israel/Palestine and her ongoing struggle for security and justice.

Reverent Reader


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