A page-turner with caveats; thoughts on “Operation Joktan” by Amir Tsarfati, Steve Yohn
When I searched my public library’s app for recent “Jewish” novels available as audiobooks, Operation Joktan jumped at me. I jumped on it to take an–admittedly easy–challenge for myself as I usually don’t read thrillers or crime stories. From this regard, the book didn’t disappoint: it was exciting and hard to stop listening to it as I wanted to know what happened next and how the situations would resolve. If all you want is to escape your own thoughts and everyday reality and follow an adventurous story set on alien countries with lots of action, this book will satisfy your need.
However, from two other perspectives, I was not happy with the book and only one of them is due to my own expectations. I was hoping to read a “Jewish” book, which I did like a lot of the characters were Jewish and a significant portion of the book was set in Israel. One of the threads in the book that I was most curious about is about a main character’s change of religion. Halfway through the book, she converts to Christianity and I kept thinking how it will affect her work, which may include killing terrorists as being a spy. I was wondering whether she would have a moral conflict considering the “don’t kill” commandment of her newly found faith. I will not spoil this question but will do the other: no, the book isn’t just Jewish it is a Christian book as well, as I realized after I read the book and researched a bit more about it. It was written by a Christian Israeli Jew who is not afraid to share his faith or put it in his characters. I have no problem with it, I was just disappointed that the Christian thread in the book wasn’t resolved from a Jewish perspective. So it is all about expectations: if you don’t assume a Jewish perspective for the whole book like I did, you won’t be disappointed.
I also had reservations about it from a more general perspective though. There are a few detailed descriptions of dishes from around the world as our heroes follow an international path of action. These show that the author did his research but still felt lifeless for me. He either didn’t actually try these foods or didn’t have the writing skill to describe them in a way that didn’t let me feel dry. The whole book feels like a dish with great ingredients that didn’t come together to a coherent meal. Yes, it is a page-turner, it has interesting characters, it has exotic locations, it has several development arches – yet still, it felt like a salad badly tossed together. It was entertaining, being a spy story a new kind of experience for me and thought-provoking (as in made me face my own assumptions and biases) so I don’t mind that I listened to it on the road in the car and on the treadmill at the gym, but don’t think I will read more from this author.
Year first published: 2021