A college student in illegal territory, a journalist covering regional violence, a new father, and a teen soldier struggle to survive in the contemporary West Bank against a backdrop of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.
I loved it. By the end of the novel, I was emotionally exhausted but also deeply appreciative of the care and nuance on every page, the characters’ messiness and the plot’s purposeful irresolution ... There are off-key moments that will likely elude most readers: There isn’t a lone tattoo artist in Jerusalem but tattoo shops aplenty; one transliteration collapses two different phrases into one; and the weight placed on whiteness rings false in a place where colorism certainly exists, but ethnicity, religion and nationality are far more meaningful than American connotations of race. For the most part, however, Sacks skillfully balances her characters’ daily dramas and relationships — crushes, parents, siblings, engagements, babies and sex — with the ever-present hum of underlying ideology and potential violence.
... lovely ... The panoramic ambition, scope and complexity of City of a Thousand Gates is embodied in its Cast of Characters – 32 in all, in nine distinct groupings. The third-person narration offers a mosaic of perspectives, shifting fluidly, but without much change in voice or style, from character to character ... The novel’s juxtapositions and coincidences surprise without shocking. Sacks writes with a generosity and gentleness at odds with her troubling subject matter ... Sacks writes explicit sex scenes, celebrating compatibility, experimentation and, more ambivalently, the excitement inherent in power imbalances and self-abandon ... Despite its profusion of characters, City of a Thousand Gates is too gracefully written to grow sluggish. A tighter focus might arguably have made for an even better book – perhaps a deeper character study, a more propulsive plot. But Sacks’ craft, especially her mastery of language and pacing, is impressive. Having lived in Tel Aviv and reported from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, she seems to have captured the authentic texture of these metropolises, and of the clashing cultures she depicts ... hardly a conventional thriller. Nor is its patient humanism — its compassion for the many flawed people who inhabit its contested landscape – startlingly original or transgressive. What is thrilling is to see how cleverly Sacks fits the puzzle pieces of her narrative together, linking all those lives with far fewer than six degrees of separation between them.
Vast in scope, Sacks’ stunning first novel takes place in the contemporary West Bank and follows a large cast of characters to explore the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ... Sacks imbues her first novel with foreboding at every turn...And yet, through her vibrant characters, she paints a moving and powerful portrait of those who love the region passionately despite its many tensions and dangers.