The Debba
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The Debba

3.18 of 5 stars 3.18  ·  rating details  ·  113 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Winner of the 2011 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel

In Middle East lore the Debba is a mythical Arab hyena that can turn into a man who lures Jewish children away from their families to teach them the language of the beasts. To the Arabs he is a heroic national symbol; to the Jews he is a terrorist. To David Starkman, “The Debba” is a controversial play, writte...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 13th 2010 by Other Press (first published January 1st 2010)
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This is from the perspective of an American Jew who was brought up to believe that Israel is the Holy Land which is not like the other nations. My grandmother was born in Teveria (Tiberius) in 1905. She had a deep abiding love for Israel and kept in communication with her relatives who still lived there. When I went to Israel at the age of sixteen with my family, I kept a travel diary. I met some of my cousins. One was an actress who was part of the Israeli military's entertainment corps. I was...more
The characters were intriguing, complex, and well-written, but the convoluted plot sometimes got in the way (3.5 stars)

Mandelman's first full-length novel is well-written and the author is a gifted storyteller with a talent for creating intriguing, complex, and vastly different characters. As much as the plot is intricately woven and propels the book, I truly think the characters are the stars, for they are all very carefully and thoughtfully drawn and their portrayal feels honest and truthful....more
Brian Williams
An awful book and I therefore recommend that it be avoided.
I struggled to finish it in order to find out the identity of the murderer. It was a real chore to do this. It is a muddled tale of woe and deceit, full of nonsense. The essential message seems to be that Arabs and Jews can co-exist on a personal level even with the Israeli establishment keeping them apart. An intermediate knowledge of Palestinian history post Balfour Declaration is needed to figure out some of the events being discussed...more
Mal Warwick
Murder in Tel Aviv: A Superb Novel Digs for Roots in Israel's Modern History

As an American Jew and both secular and far more progressive than the self-appointed leadership of the U.S. Jewish community, I’ve often wondered how the current intractable standoff between Israelis and Palestinians came about. “It’s obvious, you’ll say. “Jewish immigrants from Europe settled on Palestinian land,” and of course that’s true. But doesn’t it seem unlikely that every Israeli became an Arab-hater shortly aft...more
Do not expect to better understand the situation in the Middle East after reading this book. Perhaps if you are from there, but as I am not I found it only added to my despair of what has been transpiring for the last hundred years.
One self exiled Israel receives word his father has died and he must come home to handle the affairs. His father as it turns out is a War hero who saved the day in the 67 war. His son who has been living in Canada is an ex assassin for the Israelis which has caused hi...more
Melissa Acuna
The Debba by Avner Mandelman is part thriller, part historical novel, part political murder mystery set in Israel in the 1970’s. David Starkman has emigrated from Israel to Canada, renounced his Israeli citizenship and cut off contact with his parents. The gruesome murder of his father, a national hero, brings him back and an unusual request in the will keeps him in Israel. David must stage a play written by his father within 45 days. And unusual happenings force him to find his father’s killer....more
If you're an Israeli or know a good deal of the history of Israel, this novel will undoubtedly appeal more than if you don't. You might not even find it believable unless you know Israel well. The plot hinges on a national hysteria over a minor production of a very minor play written just before the creation of the Israeli state. Yes, in Israel art can (or could in the 1970s, when this novel takes place) have a major national emotional impact.

Getting beyond the plot, The Debba tries to use the n...more
This is a strange but ultimately fascinating novel. Nominally a thriller, it is also a work of serious literary intent that explores Israeli history, or the "pre-history" as it is referred to in the novel. The ambivalence with which the younger generation views the founding of Israel is in striking contrast to that of the older characters in the book. This includes the narrator's late father and many of his friends. I found the viewpoints expressed in the book of great interest. Of course, to an...more
Murder mystery set against the backdrop of Israeli history/politics. I find that many Israeli novels (and movies for that matter) are jam-packed with exposing/including all the conflicts (innner and outer) in Israeli society--and this book is no exception. There is the 19 year old who is selected to be a trained assassin, who has to live with the memoiries of what he did. There is the emigrant who is in a relationship with a "shiksa," the woman who chooses Israel over a man who wants to leave, t...more
A very good first novel! I was surprised at how absorbed I became reading it since neither mysteries nor thrillers are my usual 'loves'.

A large part of what I like about The Debba is that although I'm better informed than many [if not most] people about the times and places I wound up learning a vast amount - almost subliminally. The people inhabiting this book are _real_; I've met their like before and those I haven't met I either wish to meet or would stay clear of altogether. Yet nothing in...more
It's hard to read a book when you can't stand the characters or their lives, their world. I stuck with this one only because I was going to the author's talk and wanted to know "what were you thinking?" He told me it took him 12 years to write this, and hoped I would read it in less time. It took me three months. He described this book as having three themes: the past, the present, and the play. And although the three areas weave and bob in an interesting way, it was not a good read for me. Most...more
Nic Templo Perez
The book gave me some ideas on how life is like in Israel, albeit from the perspective of someone who felt that he had to flee that life. I think I would have appreciated this book more if I had some background on the events that were referred to.

Likewise, it was interesting to read about how two cultures, the Jews and the Arabs, view a single subject, the Debba, very differently. One sees the creature as noble, their saving grace. The other views it as a terrorist, out to corrupt their children...more
A Canadian man goes to Israel to clean up his father's affairs after his death and ends up in a thriller related to an old manuscript of a play that he decides to re-stage.

I think I learned a bit about Israel's recent history through this book. And Mandelman examines Jewish-Arab relations on a personal level, which gets away from a lot of the rhetoric swirling about the characters in the larger political context.

There is an element of supposed supernatural in the book, but it doesn't go too far...more
Linda Robinson
Political thriller, murder mystery, multilayered love story, detective yarn - a clean, smart, absorbing, twisty, dark, bright story. Historical fiction, too, maybe as we're immersed in the before and after of Palestine through its characters that inhabit this book. Dropped me right into the heat of Tel Aviv and Yaffo and the confusion of David Starkman, our hero, and I didn't put the book back down until the acknowledgments. Took Mr. Mandelman a long time to write his first novel, and his skill...more
Wendy E.
Wow. I was driven to read this book because I simply wanted to know what happened. The thriller aspect, former assassin trying to quit the life is called back to Israel after his father's death, the political aspect, Arabs v. Jews, and the historical aspect, Jews v. Arabs and Germans, all drove the plot. I don't pretend to understand the conflict in the Middle East any better than when I started reading, even though I swear I learned stuff along the way. If you try it, have a dictionary handy fo...more
Carrie Marcotte
It reads like one of those spy thrillers but gets very deep in the weeds with Israeli political intrigue, so much so that you feel you should have read up on Israeli history before picking up this book beforehand. I never felt engaged by the author to care for the story or any of the characters in this. By the end, I felt lost in the story tie-ups.
This novel is part history, part murder mystery. It takes you from Canada to Israel. David Starkman comes to Israel to bury his father, whom he has not seen or spoken to in seven years. His father wrote a play which the Israel
Government does not want tone produced. Lots of action and moments of losing the reader.

Marci -  Serendipitous Readings
Between the death of his father and the past that seems to keep him from sleeping the main character overcomes some of his own demons while trying to come to terms with some of his fathers past history. Filled with stark realizations, a bit of humour, this book will keep you interested until the final page is read.
Really enjoyed this; in fact had trouble putting it down. More on the complications of relationships with long term effects between Jewish (both eastern and western) with each other and the Arab residents and the difficulties in living there. Very complicated, but still very much there.
I found this to be quite the absorbing read though very different. From the first page I was swept up into the story even though the main character was not the most appealing and the plot, at times, seemed most unlikely.
Sheryl Ginsberg
Interesting read; helps to understand the Israeli/Arab conflict politically. I especially can appreciate it in retrospect now that I have a class in Israeli culture currently and have read the novella "Facing the Forest" by A.B.Yehoshua.
It was a new perspective of a long history of the middle east but somehow the conflict of this character didn't ring convincing to me. I would recommend it however, as it kept me interested enough to read through quickly.
"An absorbing and captivation novel that bridges the uncomfortable political gap between the Palesstinian and Israeli sides". It is very complicated and I had to read some sections over again.
May 23, 2012 wigwam rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
5/23 - started okay and then got lamer and lamer but it's readable, and i'd finished it before i knew it

but i think it may be the death knell for my Around the World project
I kinda liked it & kinda not. I do not understand why this play was such a big deal. But I do like the way it was set up & eventually ended.
The setting, Palestine, and the Arab Israeli conflict interesting. I liked the setting and the Debba. The characters-not so much.
Interesting and challenging view of Israel and the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the early years of the state
I honestly don't know why, but I just couldn't get into this book. I got maybe halfway through before giving up.
Jennifer Golbeck
Really great work of literature, though as a non-Jew I feel like I missed a lot of cultural references.
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