The Gates of Zion (by Bodie Thoene)

I'd never heard of Bodie Thoene before last Autumn, when I happened to read a few of her books. I found them a bit over-violent in places, but with very good characters and exciting plots. So I was pleased when a friend gave me several more of her books, on moving away from Cyprus.

I've just finished reading 'The Gates of Zion', which is the first in the 'Zion Chronicles' series. It's set in Palestine in 1947, just after the end of the second world war, including the time when Israel was granted political status as a nation.

It mainly features Ellie, a young American photographer, who has been staying with her uncle - an archaeologist - and photographing some artefacts. Unknown to her, his assistant Moshe is an active Zionist, smuggling Jewish people (many of them holocaust survivors) into the country on a ship.

The start of the book is very political, and quite confusing with a large number of characters. It took me a while to get into it; I nearly gave up a couple of times, and that's unusual for me. However I persevered, and by about half way through the story had become more interesting; once again the main characters were good, and mostly believable, and the plot exciting enough that I wanted to know what happened.

I did skim some of the political discussion, and much of the fast action - mainly rioting and violence - so as to focus on what was, for me, the more interesting part of the story: what would happen to Ellie, to a young lad who helps her, and to a young woman who is a refugee?

The ending was satisfying, albeit including a rather huge (although predictable) coincidence, and a few unlikely last-minute escapes. So I'm glad I finished it, although I'm not exactly in a hurry to read the next in the series.

The writing is good - fast-paced and crisps, without too much explicit detail of blood and gore. I did find myself annoyed that the book seemed so pro-Jewish and anti-Muslim, but I suppose that's the general American slant on Middle Eastern politics. There are good Muslims in the story (mostly as shadowy minor characters), and one or two Jews who turned traitor, but it still felt rather unbalanced to me.

I also found myself surprisingly annoyed by the bias against the British shown by the author. The ugly non-word 'Britisher' is used several times, as is the assumption that all Brits are well-meaning but clumsy and boorish. Some of them are even described as 'slurping' their coffee. Ugh.

The Highland Infantry soldiers speak with what looks like Cockney accents, and it seems bizarre to me that while the Arabs and the Polish Jews seem able to speak in regular English, all the Brits in the story are described explicitly as having 'thick' accents. This even includes a BBC radio presenter, in days when strong accents were never used on the radio - only 'Kings' English' was allowed.

It's a pity that these comments were allowed into the story; I'm no patriot, but all these subtle anti-British snubs jarred rather strongly, as did the idea that the Americans 'won' World War II. Perhaps this book isn't really intended for anyone outside the USA (where that myth still holds true in some circles).

Still, in many ways this novel is an eye-opener to the kinds of situations that probably did happen, and on the whole is very well-researched, so I should probably ignore the strongly American slant.

There's a Christian theme too, and I thought the author managed this very well, in context, without preaching or over-emphasizing her points.

Recommended in a low-key sort of way to anyone who enjoys historical novels and doesn't mind US bias.

Review copyright © Sue's Book Reviews, 22nd June 2008


KarenB said...

Sue, If you knew a little more about Biblical, Middle Eastern and Modern History you wouldn't have made comments about the book being so pro-Jewish-Anti-Muslim or having a U.S. Bias. Knowing history, you would also have been able to have followed the book and characters better. If you hadn't skimmed over the political discussions you might have recognized the names of a few of Israel's founders and heroes. The series is a fiction (based on real facts) telling the story about the struggle of a rag tag Jewish population to build a homeland while Arabs from all over the middle east tried to wipe them off the face of the earth - with the help of ex-Nazis and British mercenaries. These are facts - do some research. I can't believe you review books if you can't even distinguish a book being written in the first or second person. The story was supposed to be written showing you how it was for the Jews, so yes, cockney and American, accents and attitudes different from their own would have been part of the background. You were annoyed at a fiction that tried to portray what these poor people had to go through. You say the book was unbalanced. I can't believe it! What was unbalanced was the way the Arabs from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine were going after a hundred thousand or so Jews that had nothing. There wasn't racism against the British people in the book. Are you so thin skinned and ignorant about WW II and its'real history? Look into it. You might be surprised and ashamed to know that Britain closed their eyes and borders (America too!) when they could have helped save hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Gas Chambers and death. Since violence and truth seem to offend you, it might be a good idea for you to stay with light romance novels. No offence in that genre. An FYI. I do not know the Thoene's so I am not sticking up for them. I am an American with British roots. I have family that still live there. I support Israel's right to the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that you and I have (without bombs blowing up around us). I do not hold animosity toward Arabs, Germans or my own British hertitage. But my eyes don't have scales on them in regards to the part they played in Israel's hard history. I am also a believer and follower of Jesus the Messiah and pray for all the people that go against Israel - that their eyes may open and realize the sin of it, and turn from it. I find it interesting that you feel good that the author "Managed the Christian theme very well, and didn't get too preachy." There was such wonderful scripture reference and insight into God's word. I am truly sorry you missed it.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to say, I loved her books when I was a young teen girl and still do now, and they are based on facts. Yes, she fictionalized parts but she made the war and what happened behind the scenes real. I never found them hard to read. I believe she portrays both sides of the story quite well. Read the other series it will all make sense.