The Hilltop

November 11, 2014 Contemporary, Fiction, Review 12 ★★

The HilltopTitle: The Hilltop
Author: Assaf Gavron
Source: NetGalley
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: Although I enjoyed the understated humor in this story, the plot and characters were unengaging and I found much of the story too dark and gritty.

“On a rocky, beautiful hilltop stands Ma’aleh Hermesh C, a fledgling community flying under the radar. According to the government it doesn’t exist; according to the military it must be defended.[…]One of the settlement’s steadfast residents is Gabi Kupper, a one-time free spirit and kibbutz-dweller, who undergoes a religious awakening. The delicate routines of Gabi’s new life are thrown into turmoil with the sudden arrival of Roni, his prodigal brother, who, years after venturing to America in search of fortune, arrives at Gabi’s door, penniless. To the settlement’s dismay, Roni soon hatches a plan to sell the “artisanal” olive oil from the Palestinian village to Tel Aviv yuppies. When a curious Washington Post correspondent stumbles into their midst, Ma’aleh Hermesh C becomes the focus of an international diplomatic scandal and faces its greatest test yet.” (source)

My favorite part of this book was the understated humor highlighting the contradictions in the way the government treated the settlement. Unfortunately, this ended up being small part of the story. Instead, the majority of the story focused on Gabi, his brother Roni, and their history which was often pretty messed up. I definitely didn’t go into this expecting an issue book. I didn’t expect something especially gritty. As a result, I was unpleasantly surprised by how much violence there was in this book, including some bad things happening to animals. I realize sometimes that sort of thing can add to the story, but in this case, I felt it was unnecessary.

I was curious about Gabi and Roni’s history, but definitely not as hooked as I’ve been by other dual narrative past/present stories. I also wasn’t especially engaged in finding out what happened to the settlement. As a result, the plot felt slow. The characters didn’t pull me in either. The author did an impressive job making some really terrible characters sympathetic, but it wasn’t enough. Gabi came across as an unrepentant psychopath who experienced very little character growth. The ending wrapped up rapidly and unbelievably neatly. I loved learning a bit more about Israel from and Israeli author, but the book still fell flat for me.

12 Responses to “The Hilltop”

  1. Melissa Beck

    I am really sensitive and when there is a lot of violence in a book it ruins it for me. If a book has a dark side like that I usually try to avoid it. Thanks for the review!

    • DoingDewey

      I’m pretty sensitive to violence in books too, particularly violence towards animals or really graphic violence. It sounds like this is probably not your kind of book either!

  2. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    Ah rats. It’s no fun when a book doesn’t work out. I need REAL (believable and complex, as we real folk are) characters and it sounds like this one wouldn’t fit the bill.

    On to the next one! 😀 I hope whatever you’ve got going now is a winner.

    • DoingDewey

      You know, although the characters weren’t a complaint I explicitly put in the review, you’re right. They were complex, but almost overly so. I felt like they were made up of lots of broken bits and pieces, but I didn’t get a coherent idea of who they were.

      I just finished Us and Cleopatra which were both very good, so hopefully that streak will continue!

  3. Trisha

    Eh, too bad about this one. It’s always a bit sad, to me, when a book that is so wonderfully outside my norm falls flat.

    • DoingDewey

      Yes, exactly! I’m always trying to read more diversely and this book fit the bill perfectly, so I was sad to find that I really didn’t enjoy it.

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true! I probably could have gotten over any one of the things that bothered me about this book, but altogether, there were very few things left that I did like.

  4. tanya (52 books or bust)

    I know his last book courted some controversy. How can we laugh about something so tragic? I had mixed feelings while reading, but ultimately felt that I learned something about what it’s like to live surrounded by danger like in Israel. Still deciding about whether or not I’ll read this one.

    • DoingDewey

      I’m not sure I’d ask that question about this book, since the humorous bits and the terrible bits are mostly separate, but the juxtaposition of humor and dark events was surprising to me. I wish I’d read the reviews of the author’s earlier books before picking this up, because it might have prepared me for how dark it was!

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