The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees

If you want to give up on the Middle East, there seems to be plenty of reason to do so whenever you read the day’s news. But if you want to understand the Palestinian experience, read this book. It will break your heart, but it will also give you hope. Omar Yussef is an unlikely hero – a crotchety middle-aged schoolteacher who tries to instill some knowledge of the world and critical thinking in his students, only to have them resort to the simpler answers provided by militants. When a Christian neighbor’s home is shelled by Israelis, he tries to get the Palestinian fighters who are using his rooftop to leave. He has threatened the power structure, and soon he’s charged with being a collaborator. Omar Yussef knows something’s wrong, and he puts everything he values on the line to find out what really happened. This portrayal of a claustrophobic, dysfunctional world sheds light on the issues that you won’t find in news accounts – which is why Rees, the former Bureau Chief for Time Magazine, turned from the black-and-white simplicities of journalism to the more nuanced language of fiction. You can hear more about that in this Mystery Scene interview.

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