By Charlotte Bence
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The Falafel King is Dead

This article is over 10 years, 11 months old
Sara Shilo, Portobello Books, £12.99
Issue 355

There can’t be many people who don’t manage to read a whole book until the age of 40 and then go on to write an award-winning novel at the first attempt, but Sara Shilo has done just that.

The Falafel King is Dead is a fantastically written book narrated through the five distinct voices of the Dadon family as they come to terms with the loss of the “Falafel King” – their husband or father. But it isn’t just the quality of the writing that sets this novel apart from contemporary Hebrew fiction. In sensitively focusing on the marginalised community of Mizrachi (or Eastern) Jews, whose roots lie in Arab countries, Shilo has dignified a people usually treated with disdain by Israel’s European majority.

I assumed that as the book is set during the Israel-Lebanon war of 1982, when the Israeli author’s town was heavily bombed by Hezbollah, it would be full of anti-Arab sentiment, but that isn’t the case at all. After her community was bombed the Israeli state used this as an excuse for further attacks on Lebanon, claiming demands for “revenge”.

Shilo was angered by the government’s manipulation of people’s fear, saying, “I just wanted an end to the cycle of violence and to live in peace. I channelled all of this outrage into my writing.” It is this outpouring of emotion that gives the book its power. Go and buy it, and then pass it on.

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