Damascus Gate, Robert Stone (1998)

Bloated, boring, and bossy, but still somehow engaging. The book’s greatest virtue is also its greatest vice: Stone has done his homework, and how. The novel is nearly a concordance of every aspect of Israeli/Palestinian reality past and present, taking into account religion, politics, archeology, history, mythology, literature, and everything else, and you worry a little that there might be a quiz. The characters are mostly tokens–identified by their various spiritual, financial, and political drives, but not animated by them–and Stone moves them around the chessboard of the Holy Land with great technical skill but not a lot of feeling. OK, that said, Stone does manage, perhaps accidentally, through his thorough and detailed understanding of all the different factions, sects, agencies, forces, interests, governments, etc. to convey the almost absurd variety of personalities and pressures present in this tiny little part of the world. Someone’s a Catholic/Jewish/Sufi/African-American/aid worker. Someone else is an Irish/Hamas/U.N. official. Someone’s a Holocaust survivor/millenarian/militant. Someone’s an Arabic-speaking/archeologist/Austrian/drug-runner. Someone’s a junkie/musician/American/Mossad provocateur/Jerusalem Syndrome sufferer. It goes on and on. It’s like a salad bar, where everyone keeps piling additional identities onto themselves, until they find themselves a constituency of one. In such a position, of course, you have to negotiate everything with everyone, since no one’s like you are. In this, I think Stone’s captured something quite accurate, and quite exhausting to think about.