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Osama [hc] Hardcover – October 1, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Born on a kibbutz in Israel, Lavie Tidhar’s unusual childhood has inspired a life devoted in equal parts to books and to travelling. He has lived and travelled in Southern Africa for years and is a keen player of the ancient game of Bao. He’s since spent nearly a decade living in London before setting off again. He spent a year living in a bamboo shack on a remote island in the South Pacific – “I still miss the volcanoes, sometimes,” he said – and two years in South East Asia, followed by a couple of years back in Israel. He is now back living in London, a city he finds endlessly captivating.

Lavie is a prolific writer, keeping up a steady stream of highly-regarded novels, novellas and short stories. He has been described as an “emerging master” by Locus Magazine, with his work compared to the late, great Philip K. Dick’s in both The Guardian and the Financial Times. His novels include the Bookman Histories trilogy of steampunk novels – comprising The Bookman (2010), Camera Obscura (2011), and The Great Game (2012) – which borrow equally from mythology, classic literature, pulp fiction and noir and kung-fu cinema. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 276 pages
  • Publisher: PS Publishing; First edition (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848631928
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848631922
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,454,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Tidhar, an Israeli writer, has written a beautiful and haunting book--but to try to describe it without revealing too much of its mysterious heart is quite a task. So let me start by saying it is extremely well-written and brilliantly evokes each of the places it takes place: Vientiane, Laos; Paris; New York; and finally, Kabul. Ostensibly, it is the story of a detective (in the Raymond Chandler mode) hired by a mysterious woman to track down a writer named Mike Longshott, who has written a series of books about Osama Bin Laden, Vigilante. It soon becomes clear, however, that in the detective's world, Osama Bin Laden, the events of 9/11, and a few significant chunks of history don't exist. But to pigeonhole this book as just an alternate history or science fiction would be missing the point. Osama isn't as neat and tidy as such fictions tend to be. Tidhar blends the real and the unreal together in such a way that truth and fiction blur into a marvelous new synthesis that tells us something about both. It succeeds, where other attempts such as China Mieville's THE CITY AND THE CITY largely fail, because of the depth of feeling at the book's center and because the detective is so well-drawn and interesting, even when stumbling blindly in search of his next clue. OSAMA achieves the near-impossible--serious escapist fiction, or maybe vice-versa? Just read it.
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Format: Hardcover
Meet Joe, an archetypal low-rent private detective living in Southeast Asia. Except, in Joe's world, 9-11 and other terrorist attacks never took place. Instead, they're just plot elements in a semi-popular series of pulp novels called "Osama bin Laden, Vigilante", which even has a yearly fan convention devoted to it.

This matters to Joe because a mysterious woman appears at his office and hires him to track down the author of those same novels. Soon, as he travels the world, he finds himself running into people who don't quite seem to belong. Then he meets people who don't want him investigating further. And then things start to get odd. Philip K. Dick comparisons seem apt, though I was also reminded of China Mieville's City and the City and the mind-bending story in the computer game Braid.

This is, without question, a novel whose meaning hides in its obliqueness and blurring of reality. Who is Joe, exactly? Who are the ghostlike "refugees"? What is the connection between his world and ours? Tidhar offers hints, but no certain answers. I thought it was a stroke of brilliance that Osama bin Laden himself becomes an anti-presence in the story. Made imaginary in Joe's world, he becomes more visible as what he really is in ours: a omnipresent icon that haunts without having any real definition or connection to what the actual bin Laden was. The symbolism is open to interpretation, but, to me, it expressed the ultimate elusiveness of either escape or understanding in the endless feedback of the human response to terrorism.

Of course, open-ended, strange-loopy novels aren't the sort of thing that speaks to every reader (at least, not without chemical enhancement), but this one hit most of the right notes with me. I liked the audacity of Tidhar's vision and the tight, noir-ish, slightly hallucinatory writing. And it's not a long book.
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Format: Hardcover
It seems that this book has received a considerable number of accolades from non-Amazon reviewers. For me, reading Tidhar's work was like plodding through a fog-enshrouded swamp without a compass. I would have rated it a "one star," except for the final 75 pages, which finally "picked up the pace." Like most of the novel itself, I wasn't sure if the preface, listing two pages of supposed praise for this "provocative and fast-moving tale," were real or imagined.

I would characterize OSAMA as more of an "alternate reality" essay than an "alternate history." At its conclusion, it leaves many unanswered questions. "Joe" (the protagonist) is often described by the other characters as a "refugee," a "ghost," or a "fuzzy-wuzzy." Has Joe died as a result of a terrorist bombing in our "real" world? Is he now trapped between our world and a reality in which Osama bin Laden is only a persona appearing in under-the-counter pulp fiction? Or is Joe simply immersed in an opium-filled hallucination? (The cover of the book and pages between chapters depict apparent cigarette or pipe smoke.)

On the plus side, Tidhar penned several thought-provoking sections. I particularly liked the scene in which Joe, wandering though a strange house, spots a large picture frame titled TIME'S MAN OF THE YEAR, and sees an image of himself. It turns out that the frame outlines a mirror, and Joe simply gazes into his own reflection.

Unfortunately, the author's constant use of short, choppy sentences and agonizingly poor similes and metaphors makes OSAMA difficult to read. A few examples are listed below:

"The girl closed the book and laid it back down on the desk, carefully, as if handling a valuable object. 'Do you think so?' she said. He didn't know what to answer her.
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Format: Paperback
With Osama, Lavie Tidhar isn't writing about the moments of horror that make up the connect-the-dots of modern terrorism. He's writing about their reflections.

And noir, with its long history of engaging with questions of violence and culpability, seems an obvious way to try to access, and personalize, a story about terrorism. So it makes sense that Osama is a noir. And not just some run-of-the-mill the-author-just-watched-The-Maltese-Falcon rip-off, either, although Tidhar hits all the right beats: the staccato dialogue, the curling smoke, the steaming coffee, the chases through the chiaroscuro of grimy city streets.

Joe's a consummate everyman, an anonymous PI out of place and happy to be there. Set in a world without terrorism, Osama begins as all good hardboiled novels begin: a beautiful woman walks into Joe's office and offers him a job - find Mike Longshott, the apparently pseudonymous author of the wildly popular, critically derided Osama: Vigilante series of pulp novels. All expenses paid, of course. The chase leads Joe from one end of the world to the other; in his wake he trails confusion and violence, while each clue leads him to question not only his employment, but his own life.

But Osama isn't a straight-up hardboiled novel. It's a noir. And the best noir isn't about the mystery, or the atmosphere - although they're both important components of the whole. At base, noir is about character; that is, a character. A single person, in search of something. Noir requires a complex point-of-view character, someone who's both wholly certain of himself and entirely lost. An shadowy person, in a series of shadowy settings, searching not just for answers to some mystery-for-hire, but for himself.
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