Lavie Tidhar is a genius at conjuring realities that are just two steps to the left of our own—places that look and smell and feel real, if just a bit hauntingly alien ... This is a story that gets weirder the deeper you get into it; that cultivates strangeness like something precious ... There are echoes of Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union in it, wild strains of P.K. Dick and Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. But Unholy Land is its own thing. Something that no one but Tidhar could've written. Gorgeous in its alienness, comfortingly gray in its banality, and disquieting throughout. And yes, it's a story about the magic of writers, partly, and that may rub some people the wrong way ... but because it's Tidhar, somehow, that makes it okay. Because he approaches it with a certain reverence for the pulps and the hacks, for the cheapness of collections of Golden Age sci-fi space-ships-and-ray-guns imaginings, for the sadness of worlds that never were.
Lavie Tidhar’s stunning science fiction adventure, Unholy Land, moves between incarnations of Jewish being with alacrity, hunger, and humility ... Political commentary is here, particularly in the Palestinian treatment of African refugees, seen in the world where the travelers and lawman meet. Still, it’s the details between realities that captivate ... Unholy Land is a wonder and a revelation—a work of science fiction capable of enthralling audiences across the multiverse.
Here, in Unholy Land, [Tidhar] turns his attention to his own homeland, in a scenario that seems wildly unlikely until we realize it was actually proposed in the early 20th century: namely, relocating European Jews to part of what is now Uganda ... By the time their stories all braid together, Tidhar has turned a suspenseful adventure tale into a complex meditation on the possible paths of modern Jewish history.
Like Tidhar’s other work, Unholy Land is a complex and metatextual narrative, moving between first-, second-, and third-person narrators, that theorizes the work speculative fiction does—the possibilities and alternatives it imagines—and questions the worth of the 'fantasy' writer in a world where nation-states maintain and legitimize their existence through the oppression of whole groups of people. It is, unsurprisingly, a powerful meditation on the ethics of history and the power of borders, an analogy, no doubt, to the border walls both on the West Bank and in Trump’s presidential promises as much as to the ideologized divides that drive military and state conflict. Unholy Land is a call to imagine and fight for alternatives.
It’s a dense and demanding novel, with tantalizing hints of a subplot that never completely materializes (like a tossed-off reference to a still-ruling Idi Amin). The ambiguity of the narrative might make it a tough sell for those who prefer more conventional genre fare, but adventurous readers will appreciate this well-written and ambitious book. It should find a place at any library that offers high-quality literary fiction.
Shifting perspectives will keep readers trying to catch up with this fast-paced plot involving incredible twists on multiple realities and homecoming. This latest from Campbell and World Fantasy Award winner Tidha...is fascinating and powerful.
World Fantasy Award winner Tidhar...will leave readers’ heads spinning with this disorienting and gripping alternate history ... Readers of all kinds, and particularly fans of detective stories and puzzles, will enjoy grappling with the numerous questions raised by this stellar work.