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The Debba Paperback – July 13, 2010
Necessary evil is a cost of civilized life. This is a theme that runs through much of my work, since all societies have dirty jobs that must be done, if society is to survive. But what if some truly necessary jobs--secret assassinations, blackmailing of spies’ kin, physical interrogations--are also immoral? So immoral that society cannot acknowledge their existence even to itself? Who shall do those jobs, and what should happen to the doers? This is one of the most incendiary topics an author can choose, because it forces his readers to confront their own hypocrisy. It’s also the topic John le Carré embraced.
I still remember the electric shock I felt as I encountered George Smiley for the first time, when I was still living in Israel in the 1960s. Here, finally, was reality as I witnessed it daily, both in war and in life constantly shadowed by war. No other words I’d read spoke of this terrible dilemma more eloquently and disturbingly. It was the part of life essentially unfit for print. Because I had met many Smileys, I instantly knew that this is what I had always wanted to write about but never knew it was allowed. Le Carré, however, did not shy away from the question of necessary evil, and his novels thereby transcend genre spy fiction. He succeeds, I believe, because of two virtues: First, of course, is his immense talent. But second, and not least, is his enormous sympathy both for his protagonist and for the reader.
In le Carré novels, George Smiley and his ilk are those who do the morally dirty jobs on which we all depend. From Smiley’s first appearance in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, le Carré shows, often to the reader’s discomfort, that the rest of us can afford our clean consciences only because such fallen pragmatists are ready to sacrifice their own. And this is precisely why, after the fallen have committed their immoral deeds, they must by necessity be publicly punished for them: so the rest of us can truthfully insist we would never have condoned such things. And this, in a nutshell, is the moral dilemma of modern times. Whereas warriors of old have been called to sacrifice their lives, modern warriors, besides being asked to risk death, are also asked to sacrifice their sanity and even their honor. But unlike their old-time brethren, modern warriors must sacrifice their all without even the comfort that public recognition can provide.
This, to me, is the essence of le Carré's Smiley, a modern shadow warrior "possessing the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin" (A Murder of Quality). He sees reality cold and clear, and stands ready to do what must be done--and be pilloried for it--while others around him conveniently pretend it’s not necessary at all. He is a new type of modern tragic hero, whose essential tragedy lies in the fact that his soul-destroying acts cannot even be recognized, or told. But because le Carré did tell, then so, by and by, could I.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
I'll terminate the review now as I feel that the book is more interesting than anything I can write about it.
Although it is a real page-turner, this is not your ordinary thriller; it is as thought-provoking as it is gripping, and it should engender lively discussion at reading groups. I can't think of anything that better captures the tragedy and insanity of the mid-East situation and its blood-deep enmity. Unforgettable.
David Starkman begins this story in Canada receiving a call from Israel that his father was murdered. He left Israel on terms that will be defined later in the story, but he is now a Canadian citizen. He hadn't spoken to his father in seven years; cutting all ties to his homeland for reasons yet unannounced. David immediately travels to Tel Aviv to attend the funeral and Shivah. He then has a meeting with his father's attorney and receives mysterious news that his father wanted him to put on a play, called The Debba in order to obtain the $65,000 that is his legacy. But there are others that do not want this play to be performed. And so begins the real plot of the underlying issues that have been nagging at David for the last seven years.
Jew and Arabs have been living together peacefully, and without peace for many years. I am not a student of this history, but the power of The Debba is the complexity that is portrayed in this story. This is a story about three old friends, about a young man trying to expunge dark ghosts of his own past, of many long time countrymen helping when possible and not when directed.Read more ›
The Debba, though framed as a murder mystery (and an excellent one at that), is a serious fictional inquiry into this question. In the view of its author, Avner Mandelman, it's also an examination of "necessary evil," the maniuplations and assassinations and kidnappings that governments carry out in the name of national security. Mandelman, a short-story writer who divides his time among Canada, California, and Paris, was born in Israel and served in the Israeli Air Force in the 1967 Six Days' War that established the boundaries within which Israel allegedly lives today. He is well qualified to explore both questions.
Mandelman's protagonist, David Starkman, a naturalized Canadian citizen, was a trained killer for the Israeli armed forces who carried out black missions in Arab capitals in the 1960s. When he learns of his father's murder in Tel Aviv, Starkman is suddenly pulled back into the ethically murky environment he had fled seven years earlier.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Read this book and be on the edge of your seat as the ready-for the-movies version unfolds. Mandelman himself led the life he describes in the book and has lived to tell the story. Read morePublished on June 30, 2014 by Prudence M. Thorner
Not wonderfully well written, but good storytelling, and fascinating politically. Good twist at the end. Read morePublished on November 14, 2013 by Natalie Carroll
I read the Debba over two days. It absorbed me into its world and I couldn't put it down. The flawed protagonist is a somewhat disturbing deviation from more conventional books... Read morePublished on June 15, 2013 by Michael R. Harwood
There is a common story that 'explains' the mid-East. A scorpion convinces a frog to swim across the river with the scorpion on his back. Read morePublished on December 6, 2012 by A Reader
I read a lot of books, and I also listen to recordings of books on my long commute to work and back. Read morePublished on September 16, 2011 by BabsD
I think I should start my review by telling readers that in 1946, a crucial date for this work, I was a junior in a Tel-Aviv high school. Read morePublished on July 4, 2011 by joseph itiel
I just finished reading this-I had not heard of Avner Mandelman before-and must say that I have not been so touched by anything I have read in years. Read morePublished on May 5, 2011 by David Speck
The Debba is an uneasy but innovative combination of quirky book-club fodder and macho thriller. In it, David Starkman, a former Israeli assassin who turned his back on his... Read morePublished on November 17, 2010 by Daniel H. Bigelow
You'll have to read this twice as there are so many layers to the story it's impossible to catch it all the first time round; luckily you won't be able to put it down so it... Read morePublished on September 17, 2010 by Rachel