Book Review: The Bitterness of Olives by Andrew Brown

Review by: Beryl Eichenberger

The Bitterness of Olives, by Andrew Brown is a haunting book – shockingly real in bringing the perspective of people living in a country split through to its very foundations, where the worst kind of inhumanity can happen through a mere word. When righteous belief transcends logic – we are seeing it now as the situation in Israel and Palestine escalates. The cover of the book was almost prophetic, as Brown himself says – ‘it is surreal’– as the tragedy of a terrorist onslaught on Israel unfolded a few weeks after the book was published.

The story that Brown has crafted is not an easy read. This is an intimate picture seen through the eyes of two men, an Israeli detective and Palestinian doctor, whose pursuit of truth and healing through their chosen careers, are their only goals.Two good men, on opposite sides of the barrier: Retired and recently widowed detective Avi Dahan cannot let go of the truth. His life is empty without his wife. When former colleague Dr Khalid Mansour contacts him, even his stubbornness cannot prevent a spark of interest. Their working relationship had shattered some years before, destroying what had been an uneasy but respectful friendship. Khalid had moved to Gaza City with his family; Avi had allowed his anger to simmer. But when a body turns up in Khalid’s emergency room in Gaza the story it tells compels him to reach out to Avi – only he can help, but will he?

This emotive story will reach into the depths of your heart. The friendship that had existed between Avi and Khalid seems to be an analogy of all that is happening in the Middle East. We are taken back in time, to the founding state of Israel, the displacement of the Palestinians and the Iraqi Jews, the wars, the separations and the horrors of Gaza City.  

The novel explores the nature of friendships, families, forbidden love, strongly held beliefs, conflict, fanaticism and how a simple life is something that has been denied in the turmoil of the Middle East.  

Brown’s bitingly honest but objective narrative brings home to us that the victims of war are not always obvious, that the injustices and the encouragement of hatred and resentment hurts the innocent, questions identity and humanity. That our lives are stitched together in a patchwork of small pieces and experiences that shape us, change us, inform us.

It is an evocative chronicle that has its place among those novels that expose injustice; questioning and yet allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. I was moved to tears in the reading. I had to put it aside and digest what I had experienced, because that’s what Brown does: he gives you an experience as you walk the streets with his characters – one that will force you to ask, ‘What is humanity?’

• Published in the December 2023/January 2024 issue – Click here to start reading.

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