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The Mandelbaum Gate

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  535 ratings  ·  65 reviews
To rendezvous with her archeologist fiance in Jordan, Barbara Vaughn must first pass through the Mandelbaum Gate - which divides strife-torn Jerusalem. A half-jewish convert to Catholicism, an Englishwoman of strong and stubborn convictions, Barbara will not be dissuaded from her ill-timed pilgrimage despite a very real threat of bodily harm and the fearful admonishments ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published November 29th 2001 by Welcome Rain Publishers (first published 1965)
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Violet wells
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Usually Spark writes about what she knows. There's little need of research in her novels. Here she puts her imagination to a more challenging feat. The novel takes place in Jerusalem at the same time as the Eichmann trial. The trial is rarely mentioned in detail but it haunts the novel as a kind of admonishing emotional weather. Take the monster out of Eichmann and you're left with a bureaucrat who suppressed emotion in favour of a small minded notion of efficiency. This is a trait Spark's two ...more
There's a great French expression for when you forget things: you say you have un trou de mémoire, a hole in your memory. I always imagine it as a black hole through which things fall, unimportant things mostly, but sometimes important things too. I peer into the black hole with all my concentration but the lost memory doesn't re-emerge very often, and especially not when I'm peering into the black hole very intently. However, it sometimes reappears when I'm not looking for it — like the ...more
Aug 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in israel and the middle east, those interest in catholicism, everybody else too
i found this book totally exhilarating. since i haven't read anything else by muriel spark, i have no idea how it compares to her other work, but, come on, hard to beat a picaresque romp in and around israel and palestine taking place a few years after the end of the british mandate with the eichmann trial (not exactly comic matter) as background! the story involves muslim arabs, christian arabs, a jew who recently converted to catholicism, english and israeli jews, and of course good old ...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
On top of all this, as jo depicts beautifully in her review, there is the repression, long-delayed expression, fluid and surprisingly direct sexuality in this novel that contains not one, not two, but three very different 'excellent women' - as Pym would have it - i.e., spinsters. And also notable in this, now second, novel I've read by Spark, there's a really dark kind of farcical comedy, complete with a household of many wings and many guests, all of which are linked to and separated from each ...more
Will Ansbacher
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was not at all what I thought it would be. I had understood it involved the Eichmann trial in some way, but it merely forms part of the backdrop; one character, Barbara Vaughan sits in at the trial for a day and Eichmann’s deadened, mechanical responses from the trial transcript are truly chilling as an illumination of evil. There are other references to the trial but they don’t impact the story, which is good - really good.
Initially I was a bit lukewarm to some of the meandering passages
Dec 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to booklady by: Kathleen
Superb story! It reminded me of its Middle Eastern setting the way it wound around narrow corners, popping out in unexpected surprising places, sometimes with profound insight and other times with laugh-out-loud humor.

I'm so tempted to share some of my favorite parts to prove my point, but will refrain so as to leave the mystery and wonder to Ms. Spark's clever masterpiece. What I will say is, she seems to give the end away in the beginning ... more than once in fact, but don't be fooled. Stay
Nov 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While The Comforters is still probably my favourite Spark novel (that I've read so far...), this definitely comes second. Longer, more serious, and more ambitious than I'd come to expect from her, it took a little while for me to get into it. It's worth it though, and the way it all finally comes together in the second half is very rewarding. The unstructured skipping between time periods is handled with unbelievable confidence. The philosophical examinations of religious belief and feminism, ...more
Lyn Elliott
May 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, middle-east
This is the first of Muriel Spark's books I've read and I thoroughly enjoyed its mix of exotic thriller and gentle English satire, a cross somehow between a less fierce Graham Greene and a milder Evelyn Waugh.
All the characters are improbable, most behave wildly at least once, the action flits all over the place and occasionally spins into outright farce. I found my self laughing out loud which made a welcome relief from the emotional timbre of the books I've read recently about beaten women,
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Delightful old-fashioned English novel. I also liked the setting and the historical background.
Jun 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Radical for its time. A gay character. Israelis and Palestinians who had social relationships. The prose is polished down to its essence. Best of all her books.
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The novel is set in 1960s Jerusalem, with its atmosphere of suspicion and enmity between Arabs and Jews. Muriel Spark was sent to Jerusalem to report on the Eichmann trial that was taking place at the time. Like Barbara Vaughan in the novel, she was half Jewish, and a convert to Catholicism.

In many other respects too, Barbara is a Sparkian heroine, combining an acute intelligence with a naive sense of trust. She wishes to cross the Madelbaum Gate into Jordan to visit the Biblical Holy sites and
Laurel Hicks
There is no typical Muriel Spark novel. This one's genre is adventure, espionage, spinster in distress, theology, family, archaeological romance travelogue. It is very funny in parts.
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have taped a BBC4 biography of Muriel Spark and following my reading group discussion this week of this book I will watch it very soon given the this book has as it's heroine a woman who is half Jewish but follows devotedly the catholic faith, mirrors the authors own heritage. The book itself is set in 1961 Jerusalem as Barbara Vaughn arrives in the divided city where her fiancée , archaeologist Harry Clegg is involved in the dig in Jordan for the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. ...more
My introduction to the writing of Muriel Spark came through reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (after having enjoyed the film version). While I enjoyed this read I had not read any other novels by her recently so I was not sure what to expect upon picking up The Mandelbaum Gate. I am told that it is in some ways not typical, though her books do cover a variety of geographical locations and types of character. It is longer than most, if not all, of her other books as she tends to write quite ...more
This is the first Murial Spark that I have stalled on. I loved Symposium and thoroughly enjoyed Loitering With Intent, but this mid period novel seems to have her trying to be a more straightforward novelist, with the mordant wit found in those two later novels on the back burner here.

At the time it my have helped her be taken more seriously as a novelist, if Warner Berthoff's 1967 article in the The Massachusetts Review is any indication of general feeling on the subject (see Fortunes of the
A longer than usual novel from Muriel Spark. Barbara Vaughan is on a pilgrimage, visiting places in Jerusalem and wanting to cross through the Mandelbaum Gate into Jordan. Meeting British diplomat Freddy Hamilton a plan is hatched to allow this to happen. Why is it difficult? Israel is still new, and Barbara, a Catholic convert, is also half Jewish. Her presence in Jordan is controversial and possibly dangerous. The story expands to include locals from both sides of the border, people who are ...more
May 09, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paper-books
This surprised me by how much I didn't enjoy it, because Spark is normally such a joy. The plot is cigarette paper slim, the characters weren't convincing, the world of the Levant in the early sixties wasn't engaging and the pace was glacial. I didn't even get the payoff of an interesting explanation for Freddie's loss of memory. All in all, not a lot happens and it takes a long time not to do it.
David Kenvyn
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a problem in reading this book some 53 years after it was published. There have been events. History has moved on. Back then, Israel still benefitted from the wave of sympathy generated by the Holocaust. That is no longer the case. It ceased being the case during the 1970s, as Israel behaved with increasing brutality. It ceased being the case with the massacres at Sabra and Chatila. It ceased being the case during the Intifada.

But back in 1965, Israel was still regarded as a victim.
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Muriel Spark was at the top of her game in the 1960's.Her most famous work is "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." This novel is set in Jerusalem in the 1950's, after the war of Israeli independence but before the 1967 June war. The author has a keen grasp of British diplomatic life in the Middle East in the aftermath of the British occupation. The plot revolves around an English woman, half-Jewish,who converts to Catholicism then visits Jordanian territory because she has fallen in love with an ...more
Melissa Mahle
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
I loved every bit of this book, except the ending. The setting in Jerusalem, prior to the 1967 war and reunification, was done so well. The characters were simply marvelous, quirky and yet real. The plot, kind of wacky in retrospect, of a "half-Jew" secret pilgrimage to Christian shrines, with political intrigue and cultural subplots, was fun. Spark just didn't deliver with a strong ending. Good beach read.
Apr 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
An interesting piece that has become to me a literary time capsule representating the absurdity of British colonial activity in the middle East. I found the philosophical religious conflicts offered under the auspices of satire as arrogant and condescending of both the Jewish and Arabic faiths from the area. Almost as cringeworthy to read as Katherine Stocketts "The Help"
Apr 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Strangest narrator I have encountered in a while. I was also really unfamiliar with the geopolitics the book concerns and they were fascinating. This was like a spy novel populated by Isherwood characters.
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: identity, gay
(*Spoilers later on in this - even though the novel is kind of opposed to the idea of narrative spoilers itself*)

I felt like this book could have been so much more, and yet, having changed my mind after getting excited whilst writing this review, I'm still giving it four stars, because it was a fascinating read.

I really enjoyed The Mandelbaum Gate (it was interesting in so many ways), but I wonder if it tried to be a little too clever, and if the proleptic/analeptic stuff wasn't a little
The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark - Good

Back to my reading list for #ReadingMuriel2018 and the next of her novels (I missed out The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means as I read the first quite recently and the latter years ago while still at school).

It's an interesting story with some resonance and relevance today. Set in Jerusalem in 1961, The Mandelbaum Gate is the checkpoint between the Israeli and Jordanian sides of the city and between the two countries.

Barbara is
May 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not your typical Muriel Spark novel. For one thing it is much, much longer than her usual short books. There seemed to be far too much meditating on various religions. Barbara Vaughn, one of the two central characters, is half Jewish, half Gentile and adopted Catholic. Freddy is none of these. There are so many other characters, it made me dizzy. My favourite only arrives two thirds through.

The first 50 pages I found a struggle and by half way I really thought I ought to start again.
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julie Gray
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Spark is pricelessly (and, at times, mercilessly) clever. That said, the plot of the Mandelbaum Gate is so convoluted and confusing that it's like Agatha Christie on steroids. I happen to live in Israel and so enjoyed the rather insider views and insights that Sparks litters the book with in terms of the British and their mandate, and the various personalities that gather around opportunity in conflict. That said the plot is just too arcane and turns in on itself several too many times for my ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Good period piece set in 1960 Jerusalem involving a young British tourist, a British diplomat and the myriad of locals they interact with. Set against the Eichmann trial with hints of political intrigue and religious fervor. Starts out as an apparently simple story about a woman touring religious sites while waiting for her fiance to get an annulment from Rome but becomes deeper & more complicated with personalities, yearnings to be different & happier people, and religious tensions. My ...more
Daniel Palevski
Part spy novel, part satire, the most interesting part of the book is the setting - early post-colonial Israel/ Palestine during the Eichmann trials.

While there are a few great parts and overall well developed characters, there’s not a whole lot of action. I found myself waiting for Indiana Jones to show-up and spice things up a bit.

I did enjoy the very balanced and variating perspective on the whole Israel question among neighboring Arab states. Many border and national dramas add to the
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I have loved all the other Muriel Spark books that I have read - her use of dialogue, wicked humour, plot twists, observations on human behaviour and eye for detail are all remarkably good. I really enjoyed the writing in the first half of this book too, but almost gave up reading the second half. Far too long, too many characters and too little editing, poor character development, red herring diversions in the narrative, unexplained motivations and convenient 'loss of memory' on the part of one ...more
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Dame Muriel Spark, DBE was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. In 2008 The Times newspaper named Spark in its list of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Spark received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1965 for The Mandelbaum Gate, the Ingersoll Foundation TS