Published on March 13th, 2012 | by rootshootleaf1
Book Review: Osama by Lavie Tidhar
In his new novel, Osama, Lavie Tidhar does something extraordinary: he takes the War on Terror and puts it in a pulp novel. That might sound dangerously insensitive to anyone who has lost someone in terrorist bombings or in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Tidhar treats his subject matter with sensitivity and the weight it deserves.
It begins in Vientiane, Laos. Joe, a private detective, is approached by a mysterious woman to track down the hermetic author of the popular Osama bin Laden pulp novels, Mike Longshott. The search takes him from Laos to Paris, eventually to America and even Afghanistan, as fact and fiction collide in unexpected and surprising ways. Joe is hunted by government men in dark suits, haunted by “refugees” – ghosts from some other world. In Osama, Tidhar has created an alternate reality where 9/11 and other acts of terrorism are seemingly works of fiction.
Indeed, it is this fictive element – excerpts from the Longshott novels are scattered throughout the novel, relating terrorist bombings in our world – that allows Tidhar to scale the impact the War on Terror has had on the collective psyche over the last decade and whether any of us on either side will come out unscathed. That isn’t to say Osama slogs through the muddy ambiguity of religious idealism or fundamentalism – be it Christian or Muslim or whatever; in fact, Osama hints around these edges without desiring to define them because a thing like that is, in all honesty, too daunting and too easily a pitfall. But by fictionalizing these terrible events, Tidhar has perhaps allowed us to better glimpse the real world in which we live.
Osama glides: it’s prose is crystal clear, never obtuse; its tension amps with each movement until it can do nothing but break. But for all this, the end is, if not a disappoint, then a letdown, at least on the surface. I am not one for gift-wrapped endings, but what closure Osama had didn’t sit right. It was the one moment I couldn’t actually believe.
Ultimately, though, Osama is a wonderfully crafted alternate noir-ish tale that, despite its subject matter and its meta-flips, actually works. I highly recommend this.