Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Tel Aviv Dossier

by Lavie Tidhar & Nir Yaniv

6797849What does it mean to be an Israeli, what does it mean to be a Jew? What does the 'Jewish God' look like, what are His goals? Is Tel Aviv a godless city? What does 'godless' even mean? What should a city do in a time of gods and of monsters? What should a documentarian, an historian, a government agent, a rabbinical student, a fireman do in a time of gods and monsters? Is a holy monster still a holy thing - or is it merely a monster? Does the idea of transcendence differ between belief systems? What happens when we transcend? Do we go to other worlds, other dimensions? And hey, does being devoured by a gigantic invisible monster while still somehow retaining your consciousness count as transcendence? All of these questions and more are available for your personal contemplation right between the pages of The Tel Aviv Dossier.

So the above may make it sound like the book is a bit heavy. It is not! Although the story is about the end of a city, people driven mad and people massacred (including an unpleasantly graphic depiction of a child being slaughtered, ugh), and although it has a lot of very interesting and even profound things to consider about religion and belief and transcendence... the book is rather a light, fun, and briskly paced joyride. A short, punchy rollercoaster that is equal parts brutal monster novel, post-apocalyptic what if? scenario, bizarre postmodern pastiche, stylized farce, and sneakily ironic tale of worlds beyond worlds.

Here's a synopsis: godlike aliens invade Tel Aviv, devour people, cause a gigantic mountain that is a gateway between dimensions to burst up from the middle of the city, and create an unholy avatar in the person of a psychotic fireman; one year later, the surviving residents are practically insane and divided into warring factions. two outsiders who really know how to handle business fling themselves into the midst of this madness.

And that synopsis may sound like The Tel Aviv Dossier is pure genre novel. It is not! The feeling of the whole endeavor reminded me quite a lot of various Monty Python films, of my favorite film Brazil, and of the cerebral wackiness of writers like John Barth and Robert Coover. The authors are playing with genre forms that they don't seem to quite believe in. The farcical artificiality transforms all of the potential heaviness into something quite light; likewise, all of the genre trappings become a costume that is worn with sarcastic distance. This is one of the oddest novels I've read in a while. It was also completely enjoyable. I highly recommend it to people who can handle this sort of strange, strongly-laced cup of tea.

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