Book review: The Bitterness of Olives

The Bitterness of Olives

Andrew Brown

Karavan Press

Review: Karen Watkins

This story is that of the delicate friendship between two men, one Palestinian, the other Israeli.

Embittered by a past disagreement and conditioned mistrust, they overcome their differences to investigate a murder.

Palestinian doctor Khalid Mansour is working on the frontline in Gaza City. His curiosity is sparked during a routine examination of a Muslim woman killed in a bombing in order to sign her death certificate. This is nothing unusual in a chaotic war zone and the details of death do not really matter until he finds signs on her body. He needs to know about this woman and there is someone who can help him.

Retired detective Avi Dahan is mourning the death of his beloved wife in Tel Aviv. He is also missing his son who has moved to America to live with his male partner.

The doctor and detective have not had contact with each other for some time but Mansour is determined to work with his old friend to find answers. The back stories hint at an intriguing history and a forbidden love.

Brown takes us into his characters’ hearts and skilfully weaves different strands into one another, building tension to breaking point. If you are expecting enlightenment on the complex historical tension in the Middle East, this story is not for you.

Instead it’s a deeply moving chronicle of how people are brought together in a country split through its foundations by conflict out of their control. Brown takes readers into the current time and place, one of constant anxiety, of crossing borders and trying to continue living a “normal” life.

The story is at times confusing as it appears to move from present to past and back again but Brown’s thorough research makes this a worthwhile read.

This is the Observatory author’s fifth novel and took the longest time to write. Brown converted to Judaism three decades ago and combines his experience as a police reservist in the South African Police Service and as an advocate.