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Winner of the 2011 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel
In Middle East lore the Debba is a mythical Arab hyena that can turn into a man who lures Jewish children away from their families to teach them the language of the beasts. To the Arabs he is a heroic national symbol; to the Jews he is a terrorist. To David Starkman, “The Debba” is a controversial play, written by his father the war hero, and performed only once, in Haifa in 1946, causing a massive riot. By 1977, David is living in Canada, having renounced his Israeli citizenship and withdrawn from his family, haunted by persistent nightmares about his catastrophic turn as a military assassin for Israel. Upon learning of his father’s gruesome murder, he returns to his homeland for what he hopes will be the final time. Back in Israel, David discovers that his father's will demands he stage the play within forty-five days of his death, and though he is reluctant to comply, the authorities’ evident relief at his refusal convinces him he must persevere. With his father’s legacy on the line, David is forced to reimmerse himself in a life he thought he’d escaped for good.The heart-stopping climax shows that nothing in Israel is as it appears, and not only are the sins of the fathers revisited upon the sons, but so are their virtues—and the latter are more terrible still. Disguised as a breathtaking thriller, Avner Mandelman’s novel reveals Israel’s double soul, its inherent paradoxes, and its taste for both art and violence. The riddle of the Debba—the myth, the play, and the novel— is nothing less than the tangled riddle of Israel itself.
his white nylon shirt, and his legs inside the tight blue sweatpants bulged with muscles like pythons wrapped around poles. More pythons writhed under the skin of his thick arms and neck, which carried a round head that was all jaw and cheekbones—and, to my surprise, also a small knitted skullcap of the National Religious Party followers, or Kach adherents. I adopted a neutral stance and surveyed him further. He was perhaps three years younger than me, about thirty, and five centimeters
then went in to wash. From the bedroom came a muffled call. “Is’t Dada?” Ehud said something in response. I couldn’t make out what it was, and when I came out of the bathroom again, he had already turned in and closed the bedroom door behind him. Next morning, after breakfast, I took the bus to the Dizzengoff police station. Amzaleg was in the midst of a loud phone conversation when I entered his office. “Yes! Yes!” he hollered. “Talk to all of them! I said to all of them! Everyone in the
mat and, with eyes closed, began to sing out the Fatiha, the opening verse of the daily prayer, his voice merging into the hammer blows: ’Alhamdu lillahi rab ’alalamin, malik yawm al-din, iaka na‘abudu wa’iaka nasta’in— God be praised, ruler of all the worlds, King of Judgment Day, Thee we worship, and thy help we seek— My stomach churned; I recalled the times I lived among them, in Egypt or Amman, pretending to be one of them—hearing their own god’s Mein Kampf sung over and over again,
gave a long cough, then said, “But I talked to him.” I wiped my eyes shamelessly. “To Mordoch? When?” From within the hall came the metronomic yells of ‘Ittay and Yochanan, the two Friends, beseeching Yissachar to consider his obligation to his people, and Ehud’s metronomic hand claps. “Just before they wheeled him in.” Amzaleg squatted down on the floor like a Bedouin, staring at the wall. “He told me about this guy—in the first show—” I squatted down slowly besides him, one Bedouin next to
over.” Then, absurdly, “Where is my cola?” More squawks. And suddenly the line began to move, quickly, purposefully, the policemen closing in on both sides, to hem its flow. “Yallah, yallah!” Abdallah produced his two tickets, and we entered. 56 THEY SAT ON CHAIRS, they stood against walls, crammed themselves between the repainted crumbling columns, filled the cavernous hall with a hot, silent, humid presence—to the left the Arabs, to the right the Jews, the two peoples; and not a sound