On Mon­day, Lavie Tid­har wrote about Jew­ish vam­pires and Hebrew punks. His new nov­el, An Occu­pa­tion of Angels, is now available.

It can be ter­ri­bly frus­trat­ing, writ­ing a book no one wants to buy.

At the same time, it can be a good indi­ca­tion you’re doing some­thing right.

I wrote a book called Osama. It will be out next year – but only in a lim­it­ed-edi­tion for­mat, from a spe­cial­ist press in the UK called PS Pub­lish­ing. It’s a pres­ti­gious pub­lish­er – they also pub­lish Ray Brad­bury, and Stephen King, and they seem to like my stuff. But 20 oth­er pub­lish­ers have so far reject­ed Osama for publication.

My favourite rejec­tion said, What a great book! How­ev­er, at my pre­vi­ous employ­er we got bomb threats in the post, and I don’t want that to repeat here, so…” How­ev­er” is the one word you don’t want to hear when you send out a book.

A lot of pub­lish­ers liked the book. But no one wants to buy it.

Osama is the sto­ry of Joe, a pri­vate detec­tive liv­ing in Vien­tiane, Laos, a place as far from any­thing as you can get. His world is… dif­fer­ent to ours, we find out. Sim­pler, pos­si­bly. Joe just gets by, but then he is hired by a mys­te­ri­ous woman –- who asks him to find a mar­gin­al writer, Mike Long­shott, the author of a series of pulp nov­els about one Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante”…

To find Long­shott, Joe has to leave Vien­tiane, trav­el­ling to Paris, Lon­don, New York and Kab­ul on the trail of the elu­sive writer, who seems to write about mass ter­ror­ist attacks, about a war no one seems to under­stand. And Joe grad­u­al­ly finds out he, too, is in the midst of a secret war, with peo­ple after him, and the bor­der between the two worlds blur­ring… until he has to face who he him­self real­ly is.

I can see why pub­lish­ers are uncom­fort­able with this book. It is not only the sub­ject mat­ter – the War on Ter­ror”, or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan – not just Longshott’s detailed, almost-clin­i­cal pas­sages about attacks in Nairo­bi or Ras-al-Shai­tan or the Lon­don Under­ground. It is not just the title, Osama, which makes grown pub­lish­ers run scream­ing. We nev­er see Osama bin Laden in the book. We only ever see his shad­ow. What I think the prob­lem – one of the prob­lems – pub­lish­ers have is that the book takes place in a shad­owy place. Is it real? It is fan­ta­sy? One edi­tor went over the man­u­script line by line, high­light­ing changes he would like. Every­where the book whis­pers, sug­gests, hints, the edi­tor want­ed the book to shout. To point and say, This is what I mean!

It is a book that mix­es pulp, and the for­mu­la sto­ry, with bits of old black and white films, and alter­na­tive his­to­ry, and the ghost sto­ry, and a very real, very imme­di­ate war and its impact on people’s lives.

And no one’s sure, I think, exact­ly what to do with it.

At least one edi­tor who loved the book had to reject it because the peo­ple from Mar­ket­ing didn’t know how to mar­ket it. Oth­ers didn’t under­stand what was hap­pen­ing in the book. Oth­ers still were afraid of bomb threats (I’m not sure from whom). It’s a book that gets prais­es, but not a con­tract. Which is fine…


Because I couldn’t not write Osama. As it hap­pens, I have a very per­son­al his­to­ry with that loose, and lit­tle under­stood, net­work of oper­a­tives that uses the col­lec­tive name Al-Qae­da. I was in Dar-es-Salaam, in Tan­za­nia, recov­er­ing from Malar­ia in a small hotel room in 1998, when the Amer­i­can embassy was attacked. I was in Nairo­bi a week lat­er, watch­ing the remains of the embassy there, sur­round­ed by sol­diers after-the-fact. And my wife, who was with me there, was in the Sinai in 2004 when a set of bomb attacks rocked the tourist coast of the Red Sea. A car bomb explod­ed less than a kilo­me­tre away from where she was, and I remem­ber that night vivid­ly, try­ing to estab­lish con­tact, find out that she was alive, with the phone lines jammed and peo­ple pass­ing on mes­sages to each oth­er, reas­sur­ances that such-and-such is fine, that they’re alive.

Just as I remem­ber being in Lon­don in 2005 when four sui­cide bombers blew them­selves up, spread­ing out of King’s Cross Sta­tion, where my wife trav­elled every day on her way to work (she was out of Lon­don that day, and had to trav­el back through the scene of chaos).

So I feel a cer­tain inti­ma­cy with Al-Qae­da. We’ve cer­tain­ly been through a few things togeth­er! I think the real tragedy of this war is that no one seems to under­stand it. The Amer­i­cans seem gen­uine­ly baf­fled by the attacks, by the pow­er of anger and resent­ment direct­ed at them across a large part of the world. Al-Qae­da hasn’t come out of noth­ing. Nor did the Amer­i­can inva­sions of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Most recent­ly, a col­league of my wife’s, an aid work­er like her­self, was kid­napped in Afghanistan and lat­er killed in a failed res­cue attempt by a US soldier’s grenade. This is a war that we need to understand.


It is a war my hero, Joe, most cer­tain­ly doesn’t. He just wants to get by, in his very care­ful­ly-con­struct­ed world. He’s escaped these things he doesn’t under­stand, has cre­at­ed for him­self a sim­pler world, a black-and-white world that resem­bles an old noir picture.

But, like Joe, we can’t live in black-and-white. We have to under­stand the shades of grey.

I think, ulti­mate­ly, that’s what Osama is about. Maybe, when it comes out next year, no mat­ter how small the print-run is, oth­er peo­ple will agree. Maybe they’ll hate it. I wish it would find a big­ger pub­lish­er, but I am hap­py either way. Hap­py that I wrote it, hap­py that I got to say some­thing impor­tant, and hap­py that one pub­lish­er, at least, believes in the book enough to take a chance with it. I think they’re a bit scared about it, too…

But we need to stop being scared, and start under­stand­ing instead.

Lavie Tid­har is the author of Hebrew­PunkThe Tel Aviv Dossier and The Book­man. His nov­el Osama is forth­com­ing ear­ly next year from PS Pub­lish­ing.

Lavie Tid­har (A Man Lies Dream­ingUnholy Land) is an acclaimed author of lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, graph­ic nov­els, and mid­dle grade fic­tion. Tid­har received the Camp­bell and Neukom Lit­er­ary awards for his break­out nov­el Cen­tral Sta­tion, which has been trans­lat­ed into more than ten lan­guages. He has also received the British Sci­ence Fic­tion, British Fan­ta­sy, and World Fan­ta­sy Awards. Tid­har’s recent books include the Arthuri­an satire By Force Alone, and the series Adler. He is a book colum­nist for the Wash­ing­ton Post, and recent­ly edit­ed the Best of World SF anthol­o­gy. Tid­har has lived all over the world, includ­ing Israel, Van­u­atu, Laos, and South Africa, and he cur­rent­ly resides with his fam­i­ly in London.