People strive for connection in this debut work of fiction set in Israel and the Middle East: a magically rich collection of stories in the tradition of Michael Chabon, Nicole Krauss, and Nathan Englander.
The poignant, whimsically imaginative stories in Omer Friedlander’s debut transport readers to the narrow limestone alleyways of Jerusalem, the desolate beauty of the Negev Desert, and the sprawling orange groves of Jaffa. Across the sharply drawn borders that divide them, Friedlander’s characters, often outsiders or even outcasts, are haunted by the past, or by the promise of a future that they can see but often cannot reach. A divorced con artist and his young daughter sell empty bottles of “holy” air to credulous tourists; a Lebanese Scheherazade enchants with her nightly tales the three young soldiers occupying a radio station in Beirut; a lonely young boy, obsessed with the bravery of a Polish-Jewish ballerina during the Holocaust, daringly “rooftops” at night, climbing steel cranes in his scuffed sneakers; an Israeli volunteer at a West Bank checkpoint mourns the death of her son, a soldier killed in Gaza.
In The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land, moments of fragile intimacy mix with comedy and notes of the absurd; these are fairy tales turned on their heads by the stakes of real life. These stories are the literary equivalent of Chagall’s brushstrokes, offering enchantment as they take you somewhere far away yet achingly near, revealing the shared humanity that transcends physical, political, and religious boundaries, with a universal appeal to the heart.