by Ilana Kurshan

Thicker than Oil

Israeli Family on the Periphery

The Falafel King is Dead by Sara Shilo (Portobello, 12.99 pounds) tells the story of a family in a remote town in the north of Israel beset by poverty, tragedy, and the constant threat of Katyusha missiles overhead. Simona Daddon became the head of the family when her husband Masu’d, a fellow Moroccan immigrant, collapsed in his hole-in-the-wall falafel shop on the day that the ultranationalist political figure Rabbi Meir Kahane came to town to galvanize the masses. Simona, who narrates the novel’s opening section, works in a kindergarten and struggles to keep enough couscous and chickpeas on the fire to feed her six hungry children. Her hardworking and blindly ambitious oldest son Kobi effectively takes the place of her husband seven months after Mas’ud’s death, when Simona gives birth to twins. The twins refer to Kobi as their Papa, a lie that torments eleven-year-old Etti and her mischievous older brothers Itzik and Dudi, who are preoccupied by their efforts to train a falcon named Delilah to poke out the eyes of any potential terrorists. Narrated from the alternating perspectives of Simona and her children, the novel circles like the airborne Delilah ever closer around the secrets that both bind the family together and threaten to tear it apart.

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