cover image The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land

The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land

Omer Friedlander. Random House, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593242-97-1

Friedlander debuts with a dynamic story collection set in Israel that probes the challenges faced by Israeli Jews—national security, relations with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, religious-secular schisms—with sensitivity and compassion. “Checkpoint” is told from the perspective of a grieving mother who monitors potential human rights abuses at a checkpoint between Israel and the occupied territories. She ruminates about sending her son off “to be killed in a war I don’t believe in, fighting for a government I hate.” In “The Sephardi Survivor,” two siblings, envious of their classmates who have family Holocaust stories, try to convince an old man to pose as their grandfather for their school’s Shoah Memorial Day. “Jaffa Oranges” explores a Jewish man’s guilt over betraying a Palestinian friend, and the title story unpacks the fraught relationship between a father and his daughter, who helps him sell “holy” bottled air. Friedlander imbues his characters with a deeply felt humanity, and his finely tuned command of emotional tenor will evoke tears and laughter in equal measure (“I couldn’t study because I was listening to my grandfather’s Shoah story was a common reason for failing a math test”). These superior character portraits make for an auspicious start. (Apr.)