Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: "Jew" by D. O. Dodd

This is an Amazon Vine review of "Jew" by D. O. Dodd.


This novel seems to have acquired the reputation of atrocity-porn. Not too surprising as the protagonist (it seems quite inappropriate to call him the hero) comes to consciousness naked in a heaped pile of dead bodies. He escapes, and lethally disposing of an officer in a nearby hut, he dumps the body onto the heap, steals his uniform and car and makes for the nearest town. Trauma has wiped his memories: he has no idea who or where he is.

In town he wanders into a coffee-house to the consternation of the clientele – is this a case of mistaken identity? The occupying soldiers soon steer him to his role as commanding officer where he is soon acquiescing in the most brutal atrocities. Thankfully we are spared the most explicit descriptions.

The new commander, as he now is, orders the original heap of bodies to be brought into town. In an eerie recapitulation sequence a naked man crawls out and is promptly captured. Yet the prisoner insists he is the real commander.

The war is now going the wrong way, the occupiers are forced to withdraw and there is a confrontation, followed by an final ironic change of allegiance.

“Jew” is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. First the puzzle. It becomes clear during the course of the narrative that this is a religious war. Somehow the Jews and the Muslims are involved. But who are the occupiers and who are the occupied? To which faith or ethnic group does the protagonist (the new commander) belong and to which the prisoner who claims to be the real commander?

The writing is deliberately obscure and clues are scattered but it is essential for the reader to get this straight. It helps to know that a Mu’min is an Arab Islamic term meaning a true believer in Islam (p. 134) and that Elohim is the Hebrew term for God (p. 132); to recall the mistaken identity previously alluded to (pp. 29-30); and to realise that the Coalition forces which enter the scene at the end are retreating, not advancing. Anyway, no spoilers here – spend the time and work it out.

The enigma is to fathom what on earth the author is getting at – after all, we already know that soldiers engaged in inter-faith and/or inter-ethnic disputes can behave with unparalleled viciousness. The writing is beautifully allusive conveying a dreamlike quality focusing on the main character’s lack of affect. Motives are never clear, the protagonist seems to be a detached observer of his own actions and of those around him, events which are often deeply symbolic but whose meaning remains elusive. The reader is forced to the conclusion that in the bleak reality of this novel, all honourable courses lead to death and all survival strategies require multi-layered betrayal.