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The Saladin Murders / A Grave in Gaza by…
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The Saladin Murders / A Grave in Gaza

by Matt Rees

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I happened to start reading this just before the current conflict in Gaza hit the front page. This book helped me conceptualize the power struggles there. In this series, Israelis exist only as a dragon against whom you can prove your manhood or advance your own agenda -- The Israelis never have names or faces, the Palestinians' greatest enemies are each other, and peace would rob warlords of their power. Omar Yussef is an Everyman who speaks truth to power and wrests small victories from the midst of huge defeats. The overall concept is great. The execution is pretty good. Throughout most of the book, I was riveted. The writing was very polished. The last few chapters, however, were a little rushed -- I had trouble picturing the action of the final scenes and I really didn't understand the role of the cemetery caretaker and the final funeral. ( )
  read.to.live | Jul 18, 2014 |
Omar Yussef, history teacher at a UN school in Bethlehem and somewhat reluctant amateur detective, travels to the Gaza strip to help with a routine school inspection. As soon as he arrives he learns that one of the teachers at the school has been arrested because he accused the university of selling degrees to army officers so they can gain promotion. Despite being warned off Yussef starts to investigate the teacher's arrest but soon becomes embroiled in a violent power struggle between competing groups in Gaza who all treat each other and any innocent bystanders unlucky enough to be in the way as little more than pawns.

If bravery is defined as taking action in spite of the fear you feel then Omar Yussef must be the bravest hero of them all. He faces constant danger and death threats and in this book he doesn't have the benefit of his extensive family connections to offer any protection (Gaza may as well be a million miles from his native Bethlehem). It's clear that Yussef is afraid of the danger but he feels such a moral obligation to do the right thing that he acts despite his fear. But I don't want the description of him as extraordinarily brave to make him sound as if he's somehow unreal because he's a terrifically believable character: an ageing, slightly vain, former drunk who loves his family, his homeland (whatever that means) and history and who refuses to wallow in all the inertia-inducing rhetoric and mythology about the occupation of Palestine.

As with Rees' first book the other significant character here is the place. This is a story that could not have been set anywhere other than Palestine which is, once again, depicted in all its stark despair. Vengeances both personal and political, corruption. violence and a seemingly endless obsession with the past abound. Yussef's moral strength and respect for all life is all the more admirable because he's surrounded by people who have little of either quality. The casual way in which people are killed throughout the book is breathtaking, especially when you know that Rees has based scenes in the book on the many real events he covered during his years as a journalist in the region.

Often when fiction has a 'message' or gets political I feel like I'm being preached at and disengage angrily. That didn't happen with this book. Rather than feeling like I've been lectured to I feel as if I've been given the gift of a glimpse of reality in the Middle East that no amount of news- watching could ever provide. A couple of days before I finished the book I read Rees' explanation for writing the series and his notion, that he can be more truthful in writing fiction than he ever could while writing news, makes perfect, twisted sense. It also helps explains why reading The Saladin Murders is an emotionally intense but satisfying and, dare I say, rewarding experience. ( )
1 vote bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
Omar Yussef is a middle aged history teacher who somehow becomes embroiled in the politics and warfare of the Gaza strip. He is a great central character; full of warmth, although I struggled to find his motivation for a lot of his actions in the story, other than he is "a good man." This book hasn't changed my life, but it has certainly altered my perception of the complexities of life in a place like Gaza. ( )
  cathymoore | Oct 6, 2010 |
In this second book about Omar Yussef/Abu Ramiz, he has reason to travel from his home in Bethlehem to the misery of the occupied Gaza Strip. When he enters Gaza, a storm arises in both the figurative and the literal sense; the sand is as ever-present and intrusive to Abu Ramiz as is the violence and corruption and, although both overwhelms him, he manages to overcome his own fears and stands by his personal morals even in the face of danger. His morals are what attracted me to him in the first book (The Collaborator of Bethlehem) and it's really what makes him one of my favorite characters - although his body is weak and he is quite vulnerable, he can not watch the injustices (as he admits to having done in his youth), but needs to act. He may be physically weak, but, as we find out at the nail-biting resolution of this book, there is absolutely nothing amiss with his mental faculties - what a clever, clever man! ( )
  -Eva- | Aug 20, 2010 |
A UN member on a school inspection team is kidnapped after the team is told that one of their teachers has been arrested. This is Omar Yussef second "case". ( )
  AnneliM | Jul 18, 2010 |
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A Grave in Gaza is the U.S. title, in the U.K. this was published as The Saladin Murders.
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During a trip to the Gaza Strip with his new boss Magnus Wallender, Omar Yussef, principal of a UN school near Bethlehem, becomes entangled in a web of murder, kidnapping, corruption, and violence.

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