Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2011 March 18 • Friday

I enjoyed this book. The first line is, "Nineteen hundred and thirty-eight".

It might not seem like much of an opening line, but the title of the first chapter is "The Professor of Hatred", and it comes after a quote from Ecclesiastes, a brief description of various Israeli military groups, a translator's preface comparing Avner's book with the media reports of the time and, finally, Avner's response to the translator's note.

1938 is the year that Avner (or Davidson as he is then called) runs away from his boarding school in Belgium—where, as the only Jewish student, he has been singled out for harsh treatment by the headmaster—to go fight in the Spanish Civil War. He's fifteen years old and eventually finds himself returned to school by the police, after which his mother sends him to an agricultural school in Palestine.

Much as I like the painting on the cover, it's wrong for this book. It shows a pulp-fiction sort of bestial thug, whereas Avner's voice is educated and nuanced. His writing is accomplished and ironical and contains many memorable lines. After his career as a terrorist he hopes to get into screenwriting, letting his admiration for Jean Vigo and Georges Franju interfere with creating suitably mindless and commercial scenarios.

The scenes of assassination and bank robbery are especially exciting and not merely hardboiled, as they might come across on the back cover. Whether Avner recalls tending sheep, digging holes for palm trees or committing acts of violence and terror, his writing is thorough, disciplined and literary.

The book has a startlingly abrupt ending. I actually thought that my copy was missing the last few pages so I ordered another one. But it had the same ending, so I guess that's it.