Monday, December 22, 2014

Asylum City Spotlights Today's Headlines With People From Eritrea Seeking Asylum...

Gabriel stood there motionless for a few moments,
gripping the phone tightly in his hand. He'd heard
about calls like this. The Bedouins in Sinai set a
price for the passage to Israel, and then in the
middle of the desert they demanded more. If you
didn't pay you were tortured. People called their
family, their friends, anyone who could raise the
money. Meanwhile, they were held hostage...
Gabriel was standing at the bus stop, his drawing pad clutched to his chest. He'd asked Amir to let him off early. Time was running out. If he couldn't come up with twenty-five thousand shekels in a week, his little sister would die. Those people had no conscience. He knew that. 
"They beat me, Gabriel... help
me," Liddie begged.
"Where are you? Tell me where
you are," he shouted
frantically. More coughing.
"Gabriel?" The voice was male.
"Give me back my sister.
What are you doing to her?"
He was crying now, too.
"Listen up, you son-of-a-bitch.
If you want to see your sister
again, it'll cost you twenty-five
thousand shekels. You got one
week. Be in Levinsky by the
slides...You don't have the
money and we kill your sister,
He had to find a way. He'd promised his mother before they left that he'd take care of Liddie. Now, every time he sat down to write her a letter, he felt too ashamed, too guilty, to tell her that his sister wasn't with him.
Where would he get the money? He lived with fifteen other Eritreans in an apartment near the old Tel Aviv bus station, five to a room. He and John shared a mattress. It had taken a long time before he could afford the luxury of a mattress and a roof over his head. Gabriel had heard about a man who went to the Israeli police when he got a call like this. His son was murdered. 
He had to talk to Michal and Itai. He had to tell them. They were good people, and smart, too. Maybe they could tell him what to do...He called Michal at home, but the line was busy. She was probably still there. She didn't arrive at the office before two o'clock on Sundays. He couldn't wait. He had to talk to her right now. She wouldn't get mad, she'd understand. She said he could get in touch with her at any hour of the day or night.
Gabriel got on the bus and found an empty seat. He didn't look the other passengers in the face. They didn't look at him, either. He'd already learned that Africans were invisible to Israelis. They could stand right next to you and not notice you. Just don't look them in the eye or make any trouble. They they noticed you and got scared. And only bad things ever happened when they were scared.


Asylum City
By Liad Shoham

Shoham, Israel's leading crime writer, provides a murder mystery within Tel Aviv, while using the very real setting of those presently there seeking asylum. There are clearly people who feel strongly one way or the other about those who have come to their country. It could be set in many other countries as well. Fortunately, there are always those who will look for the truth and, in this case, it is a young female police officer. 

Officer Anat Nachmias has been assigned to lead the murder investigation of a woman, Michal Poleg, an activist who volunteered at the Office of Migrant Aid. She is dedicated but brave as she fights for those who've come to the Office. And she's also foolish sometimes for making accusations openly and freely. When she is killed, there are a number who could have wanted her dead. But a young African man with whom she'd been working and helping was the one formally accused. He was seen leaving the young woman's apartment the day she was killed!

Political Map

It was easy to find photos to support this novel--those who have sought asylum in Tel Aviv have been there for years. The story surrounds those who have come from Eritrea, known to be a dangerous place... It is not easy to read a novel based upon reality, but Shoham has brought the magnitude of the reality down to a single family. Readers become intimately involved and better able to understand the fear and danger faced by those who find it necessary to escape their home land to save their lives.

Gabriel's mother had encouraged him to leave and take his younger sister to find a better place. But even that was dangerous, and on the way, Gabriel's sister was taken to be forced into becoming a sex slave. Of course Gabriel didn't know that...until he was notified that she would be freed if he paid 25 thousand shekels for her return. Gabriel had to get that money! That was all he could think of, but there was no way that he could personally provide that sum. He could not contact their mother--she wouldn't have it. And she didn't even know that Liddie was not still with Gabriel!
Gabriel had vowed to be strong, not to break down. Itai
had warned him that Liddie hadn't recovered from the
brutal treatment she'd been subjected to, but he hadn't
imagined it would be so hard to keep his vow. He barely
recognized his sister. Her face was bruised and she was
hunched over and walked with a limp. She seemed to have
aged ten years since he'd last seen her. The most upsetting
part was her constant coughing. She reminded him of
those people in the refugee camp in Sudan, the ones
everybody kept their distance from, the ones they knew
would be dead soon...

He ran to each of the people who had helped him, but none were home, so he decided to try to talk to Michal, even though he didn't think she could help financially. When he got there, Michal was already dead, but Gabriel tried to help, to make sure she was actually dead... By the time he was running out of the room, he was covered in blood. Finally, he got in touch with another friend and they decided he should not return to his apartment but should go live/hide in the Park. There was one problem, though, he had been tortured by the Bedouins and had a long scar on his face... It did not take long for the police to find him.
Anat was sitting at her desk trying to
decide on her next move. She was
debating with herself how to continue
the investigation without disobeying
David's direct order, when...
Fortunately, the head of the investigation was not only a good cop, but an empathetic one. She had already determined that the time of death was different from when Gabriel had been seen at the apartment. So she continued the investigation looking beyond the young man who was already being named the killer, including by her partner.

And then Gabriel confessed...

There are always issues in dealing with those who must seek asylum. Shoham has taken readers directly into Tel Aviv, allowing us to consider both sides, the reality of it without prejudice. Against that backdrop, he has placed wonderful characters who are trying to do important jobs, especially the police and those who've volunteered to help those seeking asylum. It's an important story! But the novel is actually a strangely unique crime mystery that has such a surprise ending that I hadn't even considered the option! You know what that means! Asylum City is a fantastic murder mystery that, once solved, serves to really share what the truth is for those seeking help in a strange new country...

Highly recommended! For further info, check out this interview...


Liad Shoham is Israel's leading crime writer and a practicing attorney with degrees from Jerusalem's Hebrew University and the London School of Economics. All his crime novels have been critically acclaimed bestsellers. He lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and two children.

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