Randa Ghazy, Author, Marguerite Shore, Translator , trans. from the Italian by Marguerite Shore. George Braziller $19.95 (212p) ISBN 978-0-8076-1522-5

Read and assessed as literature without reference to its context, this slim, overwrought novel fails on almost every count. Debut novelist Ghazy (an Italian-born child of Egyptian parents and 15 years old at the time she wrote the book) tells the story of a group of Palestinian friends as they live and die in the intifada, the continuing struggle for Palestinian independence. Ghazy's maddeningly repetitive style shifts for no apparent reason between attempts at free-form poetry and hyperbolic prose: "Going back in the butcher shop, Ibrahim thought again/ about that short red hair/ short red/ short red/ And poor Sarah in love/ And poor Ramy in love/ About Ramy/ And that short red hair/ About the short red hair/ About the short red hair...." The characters are indistinguishable, their individuality limited to little more than the specifics of how many and which of their family members have been killed in the war with Israel. Other than a stab at a Romeo and Juliet relationship that comes to nothing, there's virtually no plot, no suspense and very little sympathy engendered, even though Ghazy employs a multitude of exclamation points; brutal, bloody action; and evocations of tears streaming down cheeks. The controversy surrounding the book stems from the harsh invective used by the Palestinian characters ("These Israelis are beasts, beasts, they should all be killed") and the sympathetic portrayal of young people sacrificing themselves as suicide bombers. All that aside, the novel reads as if written by a 15-year-old girl who had never been to the Palestinian territories and was given a two-week deadline to expand a short story into a full-length novel. Which is exactly what it is. (Sept.)

Forecast:A flop when published in Italy, the book became a bestseller in France and went on to acclaim in Arab-speaking countries. It is doubtful that Americans, who in general have less sympathy for the Palestinian cause than the French, will take to this book, but if the media picks up on the sensationalistic elements, it may provoke enough curiosity to sell well.

Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
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