The Lie: A Novel. By Hesh Kestin. New York. Scribner, 2014. 240 pp.
Every review of Kestin’s latest novel, The Lie, should deservedly include one or more of those coveted literary “praise-phrases” reserved for the best of the top-notch suspense thrillers: knuckle-gnawing, heart-stopping, sleep-suspending and the like. And if one were to assess The Lie on that level alone, that is, the author’s ability to keep the reader riveted to the narrative, page after page, chapter after chapter, the book would be already be an unqualified success. The plot is compelling; the writing, taut, lucid and intermittently poetic; and the issues around which the story revolves are as current as the breaking news on 24/7 cable TV. But it is the characters, full-spirited, paradoxical and unpredictable, who usher the book out of the realm of “genre fiction” and place it prominently within the narrower category of simply superb fiction.
The story takes place in modern Israel. Dahlia Barr, a brilliant attorney who has spent most of her adult life defending Palestinians who’ve been accused of terrorism is approached by the highest level of Israeli security and invited to “join their team.” It is precisely because of Dahlia’s long-established reputation as a denouncer of torture that she is asked by the government to be in charge of deciding what situations might warrant “extraordinary measures.” Dahlia recognizes the irony of the proposition, and understands that such a position could allow her to be used by the government as a “cover” for the kinds of interrogation techniques she abhors. But she is intrigued by the challenge and sees it as an opportunity to alter an “oppressive” system from the inside. She accepts the offer.
Dahlia barely has time to focus on her new job when her private life is thrown into chaos. Her son Ari, a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces, is kidnapped by Hezbollah. Together with his Bedouin tracker, Salim, Ari is being held hostage in Lebanon.
While the capture of young Ari and Salim and the sensational pursuit of their freedom provides an electrifying drama that propels the story forward, it also serves as a backdrop for a series of complex relationships between Dahlia and other characters — namely, her soon to be ex-husband, Dudik, her American TV journalist lover, Floyd Hooper, her far-left, ever politically protesting mother, Erika, and her mother’s gentle-spirited lifelong Arab friend, Zeinab, who Dahlia has always called “auntie.”
Then there is the complicated relationship between Dahlia and Edward Al Masri — the Palestinian academic and activist that Dahlia has known since childhood. He is currently imprisoned in Israel and may know more about the circumstances surrounding Ari’s captivity than he is telling.
The title of the book is The Lie, but it’s a story that subtly examines the nature of “truth” and how “uncomfortable truths” (to borrow a phrase from the late Primo Levi) often remain hidden between those who share otherwise intimate relationships. While brutal interrogation techniques might forcibly extract the truth from erstwhile terrorists, other truths are revealed under far less extreme conditions when the pain of maintaining “the lie” becomes too great a burden to bear.
Marlena Thompson is a freelance writer in Virginia.