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The Debba

3.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  146 Ratings  ·  35 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
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 13th 2010 by Other Press (first published January 1st 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 320)
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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
Juliana Philippa
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.
Oct 03, 2014 Stacia rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, middle-east
I'm really glad I read this one. It's a decent mystery/thriller (quite a few twists & turns & there are plenty of various military/police/secret ops groups in here!), but more interesting to me are the history/questions/issues it raises about Israelis & Palestinians -- from the 1940s through the 1970s (when the book is set). I'd definitely recommend it if you are interested in the history & politics of the area. The book also fit in nicely with my Banned Books reading as it revol ...more
Brian Williams
Apr 07, 2012 Brian Williams rated it did not like it
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
Mal Warwick
Oct 23, 2011 Mal Warwick rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 24, 2010 Joe rated it really liked it
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
Melissa Acuna
Jan 13, 2011 Melissa Acuna rated it liked it
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
Benjamin Kahn
Jan 03, 2016 Benjamin Kahn rated it liked it
I'm going to give this one a nice easy one right down the centre of the plate. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this book - it was interesting, but I couldn't really relate. The whole setting of Israel was one that I don't know much about, and as a result, I found it hard to relate to or understand the context of the story. That said, I did find it interesting, so I'll give it three stars.
Oct 31, 2015 Michelle rated it really liked it
This was an interesting story that looks through the lens of a Jewish Canadian returning to Isreal to bury his father. Although it was hard to follow at times, I enjoyed learning a little bit about the Jewish culture and conflict. It really made me appreciate living in Canada.
Jun 01, 2010 Keith rated it really liked it
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
Dec 07, 2011 Naomi rated it really liked it
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
May 01, 2013 Peter rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 26, 2010 Dmehringer rated it did not like it
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
May 21, 2012 Nic Templo Perez rated it liked it
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
Nicole Miller-turnbull
This book started off strong and I like it, but then with the introduction of the Debba play I sort of lost interest. I found the story line interesting of an Israeli/Canadian going back for the first time and the hardships he faced, but then the play would be brought back into the story and I would lose interest.
Nov 01, 2010 Scotchneat rated it liked it
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
Linda Robinson
Nov 13, 2010 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 18, 2011 Wendy E. rated it liked it
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.
Dec 16, 2010 Sally rated it liked it
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
Dec 07, 2010 Marci - Serendipitous Readings rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian-books
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.
Dec 26, 2010 Elli rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 12, 2011 Karen rated it liked it
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.
Jun 14, 2011 Cheryl rated it it was ok
Nov 02, 2010 Jackie rated it really liked it
"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.
Dec 26, 2010 Garryvivianne rated it liked it
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.
Dec 02, 2011 Julie rated it did not like it
The setting, Palestine, and the Arab Israeli conflict interesting. I liked the setting and the Debba. The characters-not so much.
Jul 06, 2011 Karen rated it it was amazing
Interesting and challenging view of Israel and the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the early years of the state
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