Reviews for Debba : A Novel


Booklist Reviews 2010 July #1
*Starred Review* David Starkman, bitter after completing his military service in Israel, renounces his citizenship and leaves his family. He moves to Canada and begins a romance with a Polish Christian woman, but he remains haunted by nightmares of the assassinations that he performed while in the army. When his father, Isser, is murdered, he returns to Israel for the funeral, hoping it will be his last trip. He learns that his father, a war hero during the pre-statehood struggles, also wrote a controversial play, The Debba, which was performed one time in 1946, causing a riot. The Debba is a mythical Arab beast, a type of hyena that can turn into a man and lure Jewish children away from their families. Isser's will stipulates that this play must be performed within 45 days of his death, and David reconnects with some old friends in the theater to make this happen while searching for clues to solve the murder. He cannot figure out why the security services are following him and trying to prevent the staging of the play. As he digs into his father's life, he uncovers some shocking family secrets and learns that things are not as they appear. Mandelman, who won ALA's first Sophie Brody Medal for the story collection Talking to the Enemy (2005), has written a first-rate debut novel that tackles current issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict while revealing the paradoxes of Israeli life for those who embrace the arts yet must deal with violence on a daily basis. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2010 June #1

In his first novel, Mandelman (Talking to the Enemy: stories, 2005) writes of identity, intrigue, Israeli politics and murder.

On learning of the murder of his father, David Starkman, an ex-pat now living in Canada, returns to Israel to find that his father's will has put him under an unusual obligation—to produce a play, The Debba, within 45 days of his father's death, a play that had been performed only once before, in 1946, and had at that time created a riot. (A debba is a mythical shape-changing beast from Arab culture, one that can turn from a hyena into a man. While Arabs see it in heroic terms, Israelis see it as inflaming political tensions.) Starkman is so bitter about being both Israeli and being his father's son that at first he willingly forgoes the opportunity to produce the play even though he will only realize his modest legacy of $65,000 if he meets the theatrical obligation. He believes it's just not worth the trouble, but after reading the play he begins to get intrigued by the possibilities. In Canada he left behind his girlfriend, Jenny, but once back in his home country he begins a torrid affair with Ruthy, an old flame (also an actress) now engaged to be married to his best friend Ehud. The novel follows multiple narrative threads, from policemen trying to crack the case of the father's violent end to the endless difficulties of getting the play on the boards. Actors are threatened or physically assaulted, possible venues for staging the play are vandalized, young Israelis—followers of radical rabbi Meyer Kahane—protest the whole idea of putting on the drama...and this action plays out against the backdrop of the 1977 Israeli elections. Through it all Starkman perseveres, moving from cynical indifference to rabid commitment. Along the way he finds out secrets about his identity and especially about his father's past.

An absorbing and captivating novel that bridges the uncomfortable political gap between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 May #4

Sharp, biting prose distinguishes this first novel from Israeli author Mandelman (Talking to the Enemy, a story collection). In 1977, David Starkman returns from selfimposed exile in Canada to his native Israel after learning of the murder of his warhero father, Isser, the owner of a shoe shore. The killer stabbed Isser in the heart with one of Isser's own knives, then mutilated his body. Isser's will includes an unusual provision--that within 45 days, a controversial play he'd written, The Debba, whose title refers to "an enigmatic Arab hyena that can walk like a man" and which had only been performed once, three decades earlier, be staged. David, who once belonged to an elite Israeli army unit responsible for carrying out targeted assassinations in "times of non-war," decides to stick around to fulfill his father's request, despite opposition from those who believe the play is subversive. The author deftly blends a murder mystery with a nuanced examination of the intransigent Israeli-Arab conflict. (July)

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