Murder on a Kibbutz kept me riveted to my sofa (with plenty of snacks within reach) for most of last weekend. As everybody knows since Agatha Christie, traditional mysteries love close communities: the number of suspects is definite, motives for hatred abound, everybody knows other people’s dirty secrets, a random act of violence by a stranger is excluded and betrayals make the plot development even more suspenseful. In this respect, a kibbutz makes a perfect setting for a mystery indeed!
Before I’d started the book, what I knew about kibbutz was simplistic: that such communities were born in Israel out of collective and socialist ideals of equality and harsh work in the desert. I’d never spent a second thinking about what it implied in terms of daily life: to relinquish your free will to the collective decision, to live in a kind of extended family without privacy, where petty concerns and jealousies, as well as grand philosophical considerations flourish.
Past the few first pages where I was lost by the foreign names and the complex family relationships, the mystery served as a fascinating introduction to some aspects of Israeli life. In part, it’s also a police procedural, and as far as I read, Israeli policemen seem very different from their British or American counterparts. The postmortem investigation is left to the chance of a recent Eastern European immigrant scientist who barely speaks Hebrew, and much time is wasted as the inspectors try to convince their colleagues and the kibbutz members to follow simple investigation instructions. It makes the mystery slower but I think it’s also interesting to see that in other countries, police has to justify its every step for fear of scandals (I don’t really know how realistic this is, but I chose to assume so).
Kibbutz life comes out under a less than glorious life: a matriarchal world where a few older women decide, in the name of their own ideals, that the family unit is a backwards concept, that children have to be reared together by childcare specialists so that women can achieve true equality through work, that parents get to see their own children only half an hour a day and leave them to spend the night at a “children house”. Individuality is denied (children dress up by taking anything from the clean clothes pile, they don’t have their own clothes) and expresses itself only through odd ways (the way to cut vegetables) Sometimes it looks like a sect, but the author isn’t biased against the system altogether and stresses out the kindness and selflessness of the kibbutz members who have chosen such a life.
Now, I’m pretty convinced that I won’t apply to a kibbutz (even for holidays) anytime soon, but I’m quite eager to apply to the central library for the other mysteries by Ms. Batya Gur (this one is part of a series with the same police inspector). After the Nordic thriller hype, maybe it’s time for Near-eastern mysteries!