Book Review: Asylum City
By: Liad Shoham
Published By: Harper
Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Page Count: 352
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Contemporary, Mystery
At the opening of Asylum City, we meet Michal, a young activist who is passionate about the plight of African asylum-seekers in Israel. So passionate, in fact, that even other activists find her a little on the extreme side. Michal believes she has discovered some important information about someone involved with the refugee community, and before she can tell anyone, she is murdered in her own apartment. Anat Nachmias, the detective assigned to the case, needs this investigation to go well in the face of open sexism in the Tel Aviv police force. Despite the voluntary confession of Gabriel, an Eritrean refugee, Anat doesn’t believe that he is guilty, and the more she investigates the more she becomes trapped between the world of police bureaucracy and policy and the shadow world of the asylum seekers.
I enjoy reading books by international authors. I’m always curious about the ways in which their nationality and experiences inform their writing. So, when I got the chance to read and review Liad Shoham’s novel Asylum City, I jumped at it. Throughout the novel, Shoham pulls back the curtain on the troubles of African refugees in Israel, and the problems that both the Africans and Israelis experience when asylum seekers migrate to Israel. These difficulties, on both sides, will resonate with readers in any country that has significant immigration: human rights issues, national security issues, public policy issues.
Another prominent cultural element is the closeness of Israeli society. As Shoham noted in an article on The Times of Israel website, the family and the family’s opinions are central to Israeli culture. “I am filled with envy every time I read books in which the author did not dedicate whole chapters to what the main characters’ families think. In Israel, the family has such an important role that it is difficult to see how credible characters can be created without getting into the details and about all their relatives.” (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/its-not-easy-being-a-crime-novelist-in-israel/, accessed 9 December 2014) As an American reader, the bits where characters are dealing with relatives felt a bit overblown to me at first, but as I got used to it, I had a greater feeling for the society the characters live in.
The story itself was straightforward, despite the rotating third person point of view. Being in the heads of so many different characters could have been confusing, but Shoham managed it well giving each character his or her own internal voice. I particularly enjoyed being in the head of several of the minor characters. Shimon Faro, a crime boss, feels himself a misunderstood businessman and dwells frequently on what he would say in the magazine interviews he will never be able to give about his wide-ranging illegal enterprise. He is also endearingly wary of killing people for a crime lord.
The one thing that bothers me about the novel is that I wanted the main characters to be in more obvious peril. There wasn’t a time when I felt like Anat and Itai were in real danger. They were definitely working against a clock, but they themselves were never really at risk in any situation. This being an Israeli novel, however, I don’t know if that is just an American crime story convention that Shoham chose to avoid or not.
I also wanted a bit more from the main characters. This may be the downside of switching viewpoint so frequently, but I wanted more depth from Anat and Itai. It sometimes felt like the minor characters were a little more developed in terms of personalities that the two lead characters. What motivated Anat and Itai to choose the different paths in life they chose? What odd personality traits or quirks do they have?
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in political refugees, Israel, illegal immigration issues, as well as those who like crime novels. There is a smattering of f-bombs and a few disturbing scenes involving the women refugees, so be aware if you are particularly sensitive or are giving the book to someone younger than about 16.
In this edgy thriller from the #1 international bestselling author of Lineup, which was described by New York Times bestselling author Joseph Finder as ‘a marvel of tight plotting, spare prose, and relentless pacing’, a young police officer’s investigation of a murder plunges her into the dark underworld of Tel Aviv.
When young social activist Michal Poleg is found dead in her Tel Aviv apartment, with her body showing signs of severe violence, officer Anat Nachmias is given the lead on her first murder investigation. Eager to find answers, the talented and sensitive cop looks to the victim’s past for clues, focussing on the last days before her death. Could one of the asylum-seekers Michal worked with be behind this crime?
Then a young African man confesses to the murder, and Anat’s commanders say the case is closed. But the cop isn’t convinced. She believes that Michal, a tiny girl with a gift for irritating people, got involved in something far too big and dangerous for her to handle.
Joined by Michal’s clumsy yet charming boss, Anat is pulled deep into a perplexing shadow world where war victims and criminals, angels and demons, idealists and cynics, aid organisations and criminal syndicates intersect. But the truth may be more than Anat can handle, bringing her face to face with an evil she’s never before experienced.