5 Stars - Highly Recommended/ The Next Best Book
Every once in awhile, a book will find it's way into my hands that takes me completely by surprise. A book that grabs ahold of me and refuses to let go. Had it not been for a little something called work (you know, the place we go to do the things we have to do in order to get those little green papers that allow us to pay our bills?), I would have been done with this novel days ago.... because it was just so darn hard to put down!
It takes place in Tel Aviv - for the most part - and follows the deeply intertwined lives of two young men: Eitan ,a Jewish software salesman known to friends and family as 'The Croc', who miraculously survives multiple suicide bombings and Fahmi, heavily influenced by his older brother, who works along side the Palestinian suicide bombers preparing them to carry out their missions.
This is the third book I have read, back to back, that takes place outside of the United States. This is quite rare for me, and totally unintentional. The reason I make note of this is a slightly embarrassing one: I am geographically and culturally challenged. There. I said it. Phew. And I've been extremely lucky with my most recent reads (Agaat, The Case of the Missing Servant, and this one!).
Usually, reading novels that take place in other countries leaves me slightly confused, feeling disconnected from the characters because I simply cannot relate to or empathize with them.
With Almost Dead, not only did I read a fantastic story of survival and confusion, hatred and forgiveness, but I learned so much about a topic and a culture that I had no previous experience with or knowledge of before and I felt an intimate connection with the two main characters.
Gavron takes his readers into the mind of comatose Fahmi, who we quickly discover can hear and feel everything that is going on around him in the hospital but is unable to open his eyes or respond. This clearly frustrates him, and to escape his helplessness, he withdraws into memories - recalling all the events that led him to his current existence of complete dependance on his nurse and the machines that keep him alive ('one tube for piss, one tube for air').
A reluctant fighter in the war between two misunderstood and proud cultures, Fahmi follows his brothers lead, preparing the way for the suicide bombers - the men who are willing to sacrifice themselves for their beliefs, to take their rightful place beside their God. Though he does not want to give up his own life for the war, Fahmi uses his skills to create the belt bombs that these men will detonate.
Simultaneously, Gavron moves us through the chaotic moments of Eitan's life as he learns of the suicide bombing of Little Bus Number 5 moments after he stepped off of it. Feeling guilty, he tracks down the Shuli - girlfriend of the man who sat next to him on the Little Bus in order to pass on a message. This decision puts The Croc on a journey of crazy coincidences - surviving the sniper shootings on the road to Jerusalem, and another suicide bomber attack at a local coffee shop. Eitan gains celebrity status, joins a therapy group, and pulls off an amateur investigation to find out just what secrets the man on the Little Bus was concealing.
Incredibly paced, the book picks up speed from page one and refuses to slow down. The side by side chapters of Eitan and Fahmi begin to narrow the gaps, pushing through the memories of the past into the present - connecting our two storylines in a perfectly timed finale.
Little by little, Gavron gives the readers enough information to begin connecting the dots on their own. But that does nothing to stop you from wanting to see how it all comes together.
I love books that get me thinking about the events that have taken place in my life - how much of what happens to me is brought about due to the decisions I've made? How much of it was made to happen by someone or something else?
If only I had left the house 5 minutes earlier, or taken the SUV instead of the car, or eaten my breakfast at home instead of taking it in the car with me - would I have missed hitting that deer? If I hadn't quit my old job, and started at the new one on the same day as my husband, would we have met somewhere else, still fallen in love, and gotten married?
If Harper Perennial hadn't sent me an email offering a copy of this book for review, would I have eventually bought it and read it on my own? If I read this book 3 years ago, or 2 year from now, would I have loved it as much as I do now?
Ladies and Gentlemen - meet my Next Best Book. Don't miss this one. It may become your Next Best Book as well!