West Jerusalem Noir

  • Review
By – November 6, 2023

This is part of a com­bined review for East Jerusalem Noir.

These two var­ied col­lec­tions of sto­ries, pub­lished simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, are set in a kalei­do­scop­ic Jerusalem that is impos­si­ble to describe with a sin­gle voice. Both vol­umes attempt to ren­der one of the world’s old­est, blood­i­est, holi­est, and most divid­ed cities. That divi­sion is appar­ent in the phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of these two edi­tions of Akashic Books’s Noir series.

The Pales­tin­ian sto­ries in East Jerusalem Noir are far more the­mat­i­cal­ly linked than those in West Jerusalem Noir. In The Ceil­ing of the City” by Nuzha Abu Gosh, a man no longer feels at peace in his home city after he is detained for fail­ing to present his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card to an Israeli guard. The pro­tag­o­nists of oth­er sto­ries are stopped at mil­i­tary check­points, places of wor­ship, and at the many gates into the Old City that at times feels very far away. In Mah­moud Shukair’s City of Love and Loss,” a reimag­in­ing of the ancient Arab love sto­ry Lay­la and Maj­nun, a man liv­ing out­side Jerusalem’s walls falls in love with a woman with­in them. Divi­sions of class, along with the phys­i­cal wall itself, force the high­er-class Pales­tin­ian woman to choose between her fam­i­ly and her heart. When she goes on a hunger strike — mir­ror­ing the protests of her ances­tors, who were dri­ven out of the area around Jerusalem in 1948 — the inter­sec­tion of the per­son­al and the polit­i­cal becomes clear. In many of these sto­ries, injury, dis­ap­pear­ance, sep­a­ra­tion, and sub­ju­ga­tion put extreme pres­sure on char­ac­ters’ roman­tic and fil­ial rela­tion­ships. The authors demon­strate how the con­flict affects unique indi­vid­u­als who must search deep in Jerusalem (and beyond) to find hope. 

The sto­ries in West Jerusalem Noir vary wide­ly in scope. The tone-set­ter is Yif­tach Ashkenazi’s A Great Bunch of Guys,” in which an IDF com­bat assign­er real­izes too late that the pow­er instilled in him by the army is not the same as the free­dom to do what he thinks is right. Oth­er sto­ries, like Asaf Schurr’s Chrysan­the­mums,” are the sib­ling antholo­gies’ clos­est trib­utes to the con­ven­tion­al con­tem­po­rary noir genre, involv­ing tropes like mur­der, arson, detec­tives, cov­er-ups, and cor­rup­tion. Often, the sto­ries that fit the para­me­ters of this genre are the least unique to Jerusalem itself; unlike the East edi­tion, some of the sto­ries in West use Israel’s cap­i­tal and the region’s strife as a back­drop rather than a fore­ground. Yet Yardenne Greenspan’s Top of the Stairs” is able to merge the imagery of con­flict — a Jew­ish soldier’s mem­o­ries from World War II, when he served with the British mil­i­tary — with a com­pelling char­ac­ter who has too many unan­swered ques­tions in his past to ful­ly accept the present.

It might be said that any sto­ry set in a city so steeped in vio­lent his­to­ry, so scrawled with reli­gious myth, and so flood­lit by divi­sive order is a sto­ry about search­ing, about dark­ness, and about moral qualms — is, in oth­er words, a noir. 

Nathan Blum is an MFA Can­di­date in Fic­tion at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty and edi­tor-in-chief at Nashville Review. His writ­ing appears or is forth­com­ing in Westch­ester Review, Cagibi, and Ploughshares.

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