Israel is Real

Cohen, Rich. Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.

Reason read: Resolution 181 is a United Nations resolution passed in November 1947 calling for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. As an aside, Natalie Merchant sang a song about Resolution 181. Of course she did.

Like a slingshot pulling back for the attack, Cohen pulls us back in history to preface Israel as a reality. You expect Israel is Real to be a dry, potentially boring account of Jewish history when in reality Cohen is the storyteller with the sparkle in his eye. It is as if he is telling you a bedtime story by an open fire; urging you to lean in and listen close. He makes historical figures seem like old friends, historical events seem like he participated in them.
As an aside, my least favorite part of reading Israel is Real was stopping to read the extensive footnote at the bottom of nearly every page. While the footnotes contained interesting information, it was like hitting every single red light and getting behind every student – laden school bus on the way to work.

I plan to visit Rome in the next year or so. This line gave me pause, “In choking Jerusalem, Rome was the brain come to stop its own hear, the body come to kill its own soul” (p 25).

Someone asked me how I supported diversity and before I could control my mouth I blurted out, by not making an issue out of it. In retrospect, I think I was trying to say my workplace doesn’t discriminate but more importantly, doesn’t notice how or oven if someone is different. So, when Cohen pointed out Superman has a Jewish name (Kal-El being the Hebrew word for strength) and was created by two teenage Jews, I didn’t have an Ah Ha moment. It just made sense.

Author fact: Rich Cohen has his own website here.

Book trivia: Israel is Real includes a small section of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cohen’s Israel is Real “illuminating and provocative” (Book Lust To Go p 144).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A Mention of the Middle East” (p 143).

November Accomplished

I wanted to rename November Nope the second I published it. I don’t know why I always have a pessimistic view of the month before it has even started. I think I need an attitude adjustment! For starters, I finished the books I set out to read for the month:


  • The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane.
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak.


  • Four Corners by Kira Salak.
  • Israel is Real by Rich Cohen.
  • Silverland by Dervla Murphy.

Series continuations:

  • Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset.
  • Echo Burning by Lee Child.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Teaching Empathy by Suzanna Henshon, PhD.

Murder Duet

Gur, Batya. Murder Duet: a Musical Case. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999.

Reason read: this is the last book I need to read to finish the Michael Ohayon series, started in March in honor of that month being the best time to visit Israel. Note: there is one last book in the series but I read it first, before I knew there was a whole series. Like the last two Gur mysteries, I am listing the characters here so that I can keep them straight.

  • Aliza – baby sitter
  • Andre Kestenbaum – medical examiner
  • Ariyeh Levy – Jerusalem Subdivision chief
  • Avigail – police; former girlfriend of Michael Ohayon
  • Avigdor – concertmaster
  • Becky Pomeranz – mother of a friend Michael had an affair
  • Carlo Maria Giulini – musician
  • Dalit – police recruit
  • Danny Balilty+ – police
  • Dora Zackheim – music teacher
  • Drora Yaffe – Theo’s fake alibi
  • Dr. Schumer –
  • Dr. Solomon – pathologist
  • Eli+ – police
  • Elroi – police psychologist
  • Emanuel Shorer+ – head of Criminal Investigation Unit
  • Even-Tor – conductor
  • Eyal – Tzilla’s child
  • Gabriel van Gelden – second murder victim
  • Ido – Nita’s five month old son
  • Irit – Izzy’s daughter
  • Itzhak Halevi – Zippo’s real name
  • Itzik – police
  • Izzy Mashiah – Gabriel’s boyfriend
  • Jacques+ – Michael Ohayon’s uncle (mother’s brother), dead
  • Jean Bonaventure – scholar of Baroque
  • Joann Schenk – German singer
  • Kochava Strauss – sergeant
  • Machluf Levy – police; has two kids
  • Malka – police
  • Margrit Fischer – musician
  • Matty Balilty – Danny’s wife
  • Maya+ – old girlfriend of Michael Ohayon’s
  • Meyuhas – lawyer
  • Michael Ohayon* – lead character; divorced 20 years; lives alone
  • Motti – police
  • Mr. van Gelden- first murder victim
  • Mrs. Agmon – violinist
  • Nurse Nehama – from the Child Welfare Bureau
  • Nira+ – Michael Ohayon’s ex-wife
  • Nita van Gelden – single mother
  • Professor Livnat – art expert
  • Rimon – childhood friend of Michael’s
  • Ronit – girl who had broken Yuval’s heart
  • Ruth Mashiah/Zellnicker – Director of the Child Welfare Bureau, Izzy’s exwife
  • Sergeant Malka – friend of Tzilla’s
  • Sara – Ethiopian babysitter
  • Shimshon – forensic investigator
  • Sima – forensics documents lab tech
  • Sonia – ?
  • Teddy Kolleck – Mayor of Jerusalem
  • Theo van Gelden – conductor; brother of Nita
  • Theodore Herzl – friend of the first murder victim
  • Tzilla+ – police
  • Van Gelden – neighbor in Michael’s apartment building
  • Yaffa+ – part of the forensic team
  • Yehudi Menvahin – ?
  • Yosefa – Tzilla’s child
  • Yuval – Dora’s student
  • Yuval Ohayon+ – Michael Ohayon’s son
  • Yvette+ – Michael Ohayon’s older sister
  • Zippo – older police officer
  • Zisowitz – orchestra manager

(* = main character; ? = name was mentioned only once, + = has been mentioned in several Gur mysteries)

So continues the murder mysteries of Israeli policeman Michael Ohayon. It has been two years since our last adventure with him. In the meantime he has been away from the force, studying law. Upon his return he becomes entangled in a murder with a family twist. Murder Duet starts with Ohayon wanting to spend a quiet holiday alone, listening to music in his apartment. His solitude is broken when he hears the cries of an infant in the basement of his apartment building. Abandoned in a cardboard box the baby girl is barely a month old and for some reason Ohayon takes it upon himself to care for the newborn. This gives Gur an opportunity to show Ohayon’s sensitive side and reveal some of his personality outside of work. After finding the baby Ohayon meets his neighbor, Nita van Gelden, and develops a relationship with her. That relationship is compromised when Nita’s father and brother are murdered and Ohayon is on the case.

Out of all the Gur mysteries I have read this one was my favorite. Even though the character list was extensive I felt it was more manageable than in previous stories. It was refreshing that not everyone had a name or detailed history. Some characters were just “young woman” or “fat Russian.” Past Gur books have included a detailed description of an autopsy. This one has a play by play of how a polygraph test works. There is no doubt Gur does her homework!

Line I liked, “When you want something, anything, so much you become easy prey to anyone” (p 82).

BookLust Trivia: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Crime is a Globetrotter: Israel” (p 61).

Saturday Morning Murder

Gur, Batya. The Saturday Morning Murder: a Psychological Case. Translated by Dalya Bilu. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Reason read: March is supposedly the best time to visit Israel. Also, the murder in Saturday Morning Murder takes place in March.

The story begins early one Saturday morning. Shlomo Gold arrives at the Jerusalem Psychoanalytic Institute to find the dead body of senior analyst Eva Neidorf. Although she was about to give a much anticipated lecture, someone has murdered her with a single gunshot to the head. So begins The Saturday Morning Murder: a Psychological Case, Gur’s first make-you-think fictional thriller starring Chief Inspector Michael Ohayon. [Note: Gur published a collection of essays in Hebrew two year before this translated publication.] Since this is our first introduction to the Inspector, Gur builds Ohayon’s personality with much detail. Early on we learn he is a heavy smoker and doesn’t like talking to the press. He drinks his coffee like an addict and takes it with sugar. He has no problem remembering names, hates to be unshaven and drives a Renault. He is a thirty-nine year old father and has been divorced for eight years. He is involved with a married woman and wanted to get a doctorate at Cambridge. But, back to the review. Gur builds this mystery through the characters she introduced. Don’t worry about trying to remember them all. Gur tries to throw you off the scent by making you think any of them could be the killer. When the whole story is finally revealed it isn’t this big out-of-left-field moment. If you are paying attention you definitely can see it coming. Despite the transparency, this was a great read.

Author fact: Gur died in 2005.

Book trivia: I would have recommended a second editor to take a look at Saturday Morning Murder. There were a bunch of typos and other mistakes throughout the book. I should note that these mistakes did not in any way detract from the story!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Crime is a Globetrotter: Israel” (p 61). Note: Pearl lists them out of order. I read the last published vbook Bethlehem Road Murder first.

March 2009 was…

March was all about the new house. Moving, moving, moving. Living in limbo. For books it managed to be:

  • The Concubine’s Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland ~ fascinating tale that takes place in 17th century Japan (great sex scenes to get your libido revving). So good I recommended it to a friend.
  • The Bethlehem Road Murder by Batya Gur ~ Israeli psychological thriller.
  • The Drowning Season by Alice Hoffman ~ a grandmother and granddaughter struggle to understand one another.
  • Daniel Plainway or The Holiday Haunting of the Moosepath League by Van Reid ~ this was a really fun book with lots of subplots and meandering stories.
  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri ~ I will admit I failed on this one. Magical realism at this time is not a good idea.I need to keep my head grounded, so to speak.
  • The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes ~ This was a powerful little book, one that I definitely want to reread when I get the chance.
  • Lone Star by T.R. Fehrenbach ~ The history Texas. More than I needed to know. More than I wanted to know.
  • Saint Mike by Jerry Oster~ an extra book in honor of hero month. I was able to read this in a night.
  • Industrial Valley by Ruth McKenney ~ in honor of Ohio becoming a state in the month of March.
  • The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle ~ in honor of the Book Lust of others. Luckily, it was only 182 pages.

For the Early Review program:

  • When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions by Paula Span ~ this was gracefully written. Definitely worth the read if you have elderly people in your care.

For fun:

  • Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron ~ really, really cute story. Of course I cried.

I think it is fair to say work had me beyond busy. But, I will add it was a learning experience and for that, I am glad. Reading these books during the crazy times kept me grounded and for that, I am doubly glad and grateful.

Bethlehem Road Murder

Gur, Batya. Bethlehem Road Murder. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.

I have a confession to make. Bethlehem Road Murder is the last book in a series recommended by Pearl. I should have read this one last. Dead last. Instead I read it first. Oh well.

I read Bethlehem Road Murder at the same time as The Concubine’s Tattoo and immediately I was struck by a huge similarity between the two stories (besides the fact they are from the same chapter in More Book Lust). Both books are centered around the murder of a woman. Both women were strikingly young and beautiful. Both women had experience as fighters (one in the army, one as a samurai). Both women had secret lovers and complicated histories. Both women were in the early stages of pregnancy at the time of death (which always throws a wrench into the question of motive).

Bethlehem Road Murder takes place in Jerusalem in a community locked in the ancient culture of Israeli society. They have their own way of governing; their own way of thinking. In the middle of this community lies a mystery. A beautiful woman is brutally murdered. Chief Superintendent Michael Ohayon must investigate the crime and solve the mystery while keeping within in line with the constraints of the rules of a close-knit community. Political and religion tensions between Jews and Arabs only serve to complicate the case. Of course, no murder mystery would not be complete without a little romantic intrigue and psychological guess work. Gur does not disappoint.

Favorite lines: “Each time he stood over a corpse…he imagined he felt every bone of his body and his skull laughing derisively beneath his flesh” (p 7). “Don’t you know that all real estate agents are crooks?” (p 9). I had to laugh at that one because just having gone through the process of buying a house for the first time my realtor is a saint!

Note: I think this was the first book I have ever read that included a no-nonsense account of most every detail of an autopsy.

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Crime is a Globetrotter: Israel” (p 58).