A former Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker and 1990 National Book Critics Circle nonfiction nominee, Wilentz supplements a natural storyteller's eye for character with a reporter's grasp of swirling political detail in this complex, haunting debut novel. At a checkpoint in Jerusalem, a beautiful young Palestinian woman begs an Israeli soldier for permission to ""cross over"" in order to get her two-year-old son to the hospital. The soldier, Lt. Ari Doron, frantically telephones headquarters, but is rebuffed by an anonymous commander: the woman is Marina Raad Hajimi, wife of jailed Hamas terrorist Hassan Hajimi, and therefore presumptively barred from Israel during a border ""closure."" Within minutes, the child dies, devastating family members on both sides of the checkpoint. It turns out the little boy was the grandson of American cardiologist George Raad, a secular Palestinian patriot whose iconoclastic views are courted, but largely ignored, by the Palestinian leadership. Despite his failing health, George returns to Ramallah to be with his bereaved daughter and to shelter her from the gathering political storm, as Palestinian discontents gear up to play ""Find the Soldier."" The soldier, meanwhile, plagued with guilt over ""his dead baby,"" is unable to stay out of Ramallah, where he seeks absolution from Marina and George before the newly liberated Hajimi finds him. Characters on both sides of the border are nuanced, sympathetic and deeply ambivalent, which heightens the well-crafted suspense: you don't know what will happen next because neither do they. Wilentz's insight into the region is so sharp that even the maelstrom she depicts is vivid and comprehensible, a full-fledged human tragedy from every perspective. Agent, Deborah Karl. (Mar.) Forecasts: The timeliness of this story, plus Wilentz's writing credentials, make this a sure shot for review attention and healthy sales.
Reviewed on: 03/01/2001 Release date: 03/01/2001 Genre: Fiction