City of a Thousand Gates

Harper. Feb. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9780063011472. $27.99. F;.
DEBUT After a 14-year-old Israeli settler in the West Bank is stabbed to death in her bedroom, it’s only a matter of time before retaliation begins: Palestinian teenager Salem is beaten into a coma by 20 Jewish youths. Vera, a German journalist living in Tel Aviv, chafes at having to write a puff piece about a luxury hotel when she would rather cultivate these important, hard-hitting stories. She interviews Samar, a Palestinian professor at Bethlehem University whose day begins with another stressful encounter with armed soldiers Danny and Ori at a checkpoint. When Salem succumbs to his injuries, Vera records viral footage of Palestinians spiriting Salem’s shrouded body over a border wall behind the hospital, ensuring a martyr’s burial. Through the eyes of these and many more compelling characters, Sacks creates a snapshot of lives shattered by decades of conflict. Parents, students, and soldiers live in a constant state of dread waiting for the next bomb to explode, while barriers, restrictions, and curfews curtail any semblance of normality for those on either side of the walls surely built to inhibit understanding.
VERDICT This ambitious, forceful debut novel, likely informed by Sacks’s years studying in Tel Aviv, personalizes with startling clarity the seemingly unsolvable conundrum that is the Middle East. This is a thinking reader’s book.

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