Title: Almost Dead
Author: Assaf Gavron
Publication Year: 2010
The main character of Almost Dead is an Israeli man named Eitan Croc Einoch, generally referred to simply as “Croc”. He works for a company in Tel Aviv that shaves seconds off of customer service calls, largely for companies that do directory assistance around the world. In the first chapter, Croc takes a bus to work, a “Mini No. 5” as he calls it, which is a smaller, private-ish bus that is considered less of a target for terrorists than the “Big No. 5”, a normal-sized public transit bus. Another passenger tells him that she thinks a man at the front looks suspicious, and that she thinks he is a terrorist. Croc disagrees with her, as well as with another man sitting near them. She gets off the bus at the next stop, and then the other man introduces himself to Croc, again asking about the “suspicious” man at the front, and then flips through his Palm Pilot and starts to ask Croc to get in touch with his girlfriend “if anything happens to him”. He never finished his message, since Croc cuts him off, saying that nothing will happen. Shortly after, Croc gets off the bus at work; a few minutes later, when he is in the elevator, the bus explodes.
This is the first moment in a chain of events that Croc experiences in Almost Dead, including surviving two more terrorrist attacks in the same week. Because of this, he becomes a(n unwilling) national symbol of defiant Israeli survival against Palestinian terrorism. Croc’s story is told in alternating chapters; the remaining chapters are narrated by Fahmi Sabich, a Palestinian who is in a coma in the hospital, and whose life has become intertwined with Croc’s throughout the story. In this way, Gavron has given the reader two very different perspectives on the conflict in Israel and occupied Palestine, letting us sympathize with both Croc and Fahmi. Both are generally presented in a neutral light, allowed to tell their own stories.
I really loved this book, and found it hard to put down. For one, it is rather fast-paced and it tends to pull you into the story because you want to know what happens next. Both characters, but particularly Fahmi – who it turns out is narrating the story as it happened in the past, whereas Croc is almost always narrating as if he is in the present – give little hints about what is still to come, just enough to keep you interested in finding out the details, but not giving away so much that you can tell where the story is going to end. There are characters to love and to hate in this book in almost equal measure, and despite its serious subject matter, a definite aura of humour in quite a few places. Gavron has instilled the novel with a sort of social and political commentary, not choosing sides, but allowing you to analyze and form opinions of your own accord.
Almost Dead is definitely a worthy book to read if you’re at all interested in the politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the occupation, and the intifada (violent resistance, including “terrorism”). It won’t answer the big questions, but will definitely give you new insights into the lives of all those involved.
- 40/50 for the 50 Book Challenge