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Unholy Land

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Reading
August 30, 2021
1 min read

Unholy Land is a strange book. I stumbled on a review for this book a while ago and decided to pick it up as I was coming off two novels by China Mieville — including Embassytown — and was in a mood for more of the magical realism/surrealist forms of writing.

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar is a book that exists between (at least two) realities, exploring some of the competing and complicating dynamics of homecoming, colonization, violence, and safety within the Israeli and Palestinian conflict — but from an all-together different space. Here, the state of Israel had been founded in Uganda in the early 20th century, and the enduring conflict with the Palestinians was replaced by an ongoing conflict with displaced Ugandans and internal combatants (I think loosely modelled after the Irgun but not 100% sure). Against this backdrop, a middling author named Tirosh comes to visit his family and gets wrapped up in the fantasy of his own stories, and the mixed realities of Israel, as it is in our world and Israel as it might have been in Africa. We then start to find out that this phasing between realities is actually happening, as other characters tracking Tirosh unfurl their own stories across two timelines.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book and it sparked a small (albeit abandoned) project last year. Counterfactual histories are always a weird thing to engage with, and I personally really appreciated how this one approached it as a kind of meta-consideration of counterfactual fiction. It also frankly sparked some interest in Israeli history beyond the more regional histories I’ve read, so I ended up grabbing an audiobook on that afterwards.

Anyway, very weird book, but very interesting and rewarding. Give it a look.

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Andrew Lovett-Barron

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