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Before I departed these shores, singing Dame Vera Lynne as I waved goodbye to cliffs of Dover, I picked up the book Croc Attack! from a charity shop in Borehamwood, (Age Concern if anyone is interested) for the princely sum of fifty pence (in new money). In the US and Canada the book is called Almost Dead.
Written by Assaf Gavron, an Israeli born in 1968, Croc Attack is a darkly comic tale set amongst the sometimes harsh and sometimes bizarre realities of life in Israel. We read the story of Eitan Enoch - Croc to his friends (as the name in Hebrew is similar to the Hebrew word for crocodile) who manages to evade death three times in different terror attacks, quickly becoming the man the terrorists couldn't kill and gaining national fame because of it. As we read the story of Croc, we also learn the story of Fahmi, a young Palestinian suicide bomber, lying in a coma in an Israeli hospital. Slowly but surely we see two lives intertwine, as more about the two characters gets revealed.
This is a very humorous and superbly written human story, an empathetic look at both sides of the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Genuine fantastic observations on life are made in a heartwarming and understanding way. No side is taken by the author, and he presents a story that isn't about politics, or indeed the conflict in general, but more about the people caught up in a scenario that they have little or no control/influence in. The author succeeds in pulling at your heart strings and tickling your funny bone, all within a space of a few pages and Gavron achieves admirably the giving of a true empathy and sympathy with both sides.
The way the story develops without giving away the ending really drew me in and this quickly became a book I read in a day and a half. You want to know how the two characters intertwine and there's more than enough suspense to keep you interested. A slight critique is that at the beginning of story where the lives of Fahmi and Croc are not so intertwined it can be a little disjointed and hard to follow as the author switches the two's stories. Also, there are some moments that even by the crazy standards here in Israel, seem a little too coincidental and farfetched but these are few and quickly forgotten as Gavron masterly unravels a thoroughly interesting and darkly comedic tale of very different (but similar) lives in Israel.
Publisher Fourth Estate
ISBN - 978-0007327461
Published Jan 2011
Also Known As Almost Dead in US and Canada
CrocAttack! by Assaf Gavron is a novel set in the midst of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and focuses on suicide bomb attacks made in Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The novel opens with our "hero" Eitan, known as Croc, travelling to work in Tel Aviv on the Little No. 5 - a minibus which follows the route of the No. 5 but which his girlfriend Duchi believes to be safer. Another passenger is concerned about a man in a suit carrying a bag, but Croc thinks there is nothing to worry about. Shortly after he gets off the bus, the man detonates a suicide bomb. This is the start of a string of events, all of which Croc seems to be caught up in.
Croc is not the only narrator. He alternates with Fahmi, whose role and situation is not immediately clear - although we quickly learn he does not like Jews. I hadn't read the blurb on the back of the book very thoroughly, so I actually realised who he was on my own, but the blurb does reveal his role. Fahmi's narration is taking place in what we might call the present of the novel, while Croc's narration recounts the events leading up to the situation Fahmi now finds himself in.
You may think that this is not a light novel, nor an enjoyable or relaxing read. However, while CrocAttack! does certainly deal with very serious matters, Gavron has injected some life into his writing. Croc is a good lead character, at first a bit confused by what is going on around him, and then quite obsessive about getting to the bottom of it. Muslim Fahmi is a contrast to Croc, in that he is angry with life, but his beliefs are tempered next to those of his brother who is a much stricter Muslim and wants nothing to do with Israel or the West, and even sees drinking Coca Cola as a betrayal of the cause.
In addition to the characters, although there are serious and devastating events occurring through CrocAttack!, life also goes on. Croc is nagged by his girlfriend and has problems at work, just like everyone else. Life for Fahmi isn't quite so normal, but his expedition across the desert on a camel does provide a little bit of light relief.
I started reading CrocAttack! with what is probably appallingly little knowledge of the issues in that part of the world, but I don't feel that hindered my understanding of the novel. On the other hand I don't feel that I have come away with more understanding than I had. However, Gavron does present a very balanced picture of the two sides to this conflict: while I disliked the bombers for what they were doing, I felt that from the way their lives were depicted that they had genuine grievances, although maybe they weren't going about solving them in the right way.
I enjoyed CrocAttack!, and was surprised by what an easy and enjoyable read it was. Yet it was more than a good book - it made me think about Israel and Palestine, and what ordinary people have lived through there.
This review was first published on www.curiousbookfans.co.uk, and a review copy of the book was received from the publisher through Curious Book Fans.