Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Today’s continual turmoil in the Middle East has its roots in the decades-long bitter enmity between Arabs and Israelis. Though historical events there have been dramatically violent and complicated, there are strangely few fiction novels set there. One rare example, though, is Herzl Street by Maurice Tugwell, published by Xlibris.
Vic­toria, Canada, author Maurice Tugwell's fine novel is set in 1948 Palestine, just short days before the founding of present-day Israel. As well as being a "rattling good read," his book helps explain why even now -- more than 60 years after the end of the Palestine Mandate made way for the state of Israel -- the region still remains the centre of continuous political wrangling and sporadic warfare.
Herzl Street offers insights into this tangled arena, through the fact-based fictional expe­riences of a 19-year-old second lieutenant in the British army. Maurice Tugwell has first-hand knowledge of his subject, being a retired brigadier of the British Army who himself served in Pales­tine as a junior officer with the Parachute Regiment. He clearly explains how the conflict actually involved a complicated three-way war; Arabs and Jews against the British, Jews against Arabs, and Jews against Jews.
Tugwell effortlessly weaves into his tale details of how ordinary British sol­diers coped with their thankless task of overseeing the formation of the new coun­try of Israel, while keeping the peace between Arabs and Jews who were already at each other's throats. Each side committed' atrocities, and guerrilla war­fare killed 147 of the hapless “Tommies” who were caught in the middle.
This labyrinthine atmosphere forms the backdrop for Tugwell's story of intrigue, violence, and treachery. His youthful protagonist, Second Lt. Jonathan Wildblood, faces hostility from jaded officers before being pitched into combat against Arab and Jews equally determined to kill him. Along the way, he discovers a conspiracy of gun-running by a few members of a neighbouring army unit.
Along the way, Wildblood experiences a sensuous love affair with a gorgeous young Arab woman, and also encounters a cellarful of admirable enemy agents. Herzl Street is written in lean prose, with the perfect pitch of authentic 1940s attitudes. Maurice Tugwcll's paratroopers talk the way British soldiers actually spoke back then, sharing their deadpan humour and comradeship, and he gives both Jews and Arabs their say a well.

-- S.A.

Film footage - 1947 Palestine:

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