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The Red Balcony

A Novel

Author Jonathan Wilson On Tour
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Based on actual events, a gripping novel of sex, love, history and justice in the tinderbox of British Mandatory Palestine, by the acclaimed author of A Palestine Affair

"The story of what is arguably Israel’s foundational murder trial—a tale of multiple identities and loyalties." —Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Netanyahus


“Pleases on several levels: as an adventure tale, a star-crossed romance and a detailed period piece.” —The Wall Street Journal 

It’s 1933, and Ivor Castle, Oxford-educated and Jewish, arrives in Palestine to take up a position as assistant to the defense counsel in the trial of the two men accused of murdering Haim Arlosoroff, a leader of the Jewish community in Palestine whose efforts to get Jews out of Hitler’s Germany and into Palestine may have been controversial enough to get him killed.
 
While preparing for the trial, Ivor, an innocent to the politics of the case, falls into bed and deeply in love with Tsiona, a free-spirited artist who happened to sketch the accused men in a Jerusalem café on the night of the murder and may be a key witness. As Ivor learns the hard way about the violence simmering just beneath the surface of British colonial rule, Jonathan Wilson dazzles with his mastery of the sun-drenched landscape and the subtleties of the warring agendas among the Jews, Arabs, and British.
 
And as he travels between the crime scene in Tel Aviv and the mazelike streets of Jerusalem, between the mounting mysteries surrounding this notorious case and clandestine lovemaking in Tsiona’s studio, Ivor must discover where his heart lies: whether he cares more for the law or the truth, whether he is more an Englishman or a Jew, and where and with whom he truly belongs.
Jerusalem
March 1933

 
Kohler, the receptionist, eyed the large brown paper package stamped, postmarked, and tied up with string that sat on the front desk between his silver bell and a diminished pile of the local German-language newspaper, the Mitteilungsblatt. He shifted it to the side in order to make room for two additional sets of newspapers, popular items for guests on their way in to breakfast even though the news they carried was always a week old. He had no interest in the bland front page of the London Times, but a photograph of a thin-faced figure with his hair swept back and its accompanying headline in the Frankfurter Zeitung briefly caught his attention: Josef Goebbels had been appointed minister of information and propaganda in Hitler’s new government.
 
He switched on the overhead fan and a wisp of smoke fell from the gears. Early morning light filtered through shade and touched the brown and mahogany furniture in the lobby, spinning dust motes off its armchairs. Kohler opened the blinds, returned to his desk, caught the sleeve of his jacket in his hand, and ran it across the polished wood to accomplish an extra shine. The newly admitted light spilled through the front windows and cut sharp white diagonals onto the wall behind him.
 
Kohler banged his hand on the bell and the two Arab boys, Ahmed and Ibrahim, who acted as weekday porters, clattered upstairs from the basement and appeared in the lobby. They looked around in vain for guests to assist and luggage to transport.
 
“Here,” Kohler said, handing over the package, “take it up.” He muttered some instructions to the boys and then they were gone. Easter was a month away; the great rush of pilgrims, mostly German, some British, was yet to arrive. Soon they would swell the congregation in the Church of the Redeemer, crowd the Via Dolorosa, and fill the Hotel Fast to capacity. Kohler, as Ellrich the manager had requested, was doing what he could to ensure that these tourists of the Holy Spirit received a rousing and congenial welcome upon their arrival.
 
The boys stood behind a balustrade that topped the ornate stone parapet on the second floor. Together they lowered the banner attached to the flagpole, removed the old flag, and replaced it with the new. A stiff breeze blew in from the desert to the south; the sky, shot through now with blue morning light, shimmered over the walls of the Old City. From their vantage point the boys could take in the distant bustle of activity around both the Damascus and Jaffa Gates. They winched the flagpole back into place.
 
Kohler stepped out of the hotel and crossed the cobblestone street, shooing a mongrel dog from his path. There was the Union Jack, and now hanging alongside it was the new German flag with its striking black swastika snapping in the March wind high above a broad swath of the streets of Jerusalem. Kohler observed it with pride. Perhaps, he thought, it might even be visible from his own home where it sat tucked in among a row of stone houses that his grandfather Stefan, a dutifully committed Templar from Ludwigsburg, had helped to build on the Street of Ghosts.
 
Two British soldiers in steel helmets, rifles in hand, approached on Kohler’s side of the street. He had an impulse to stop them and point out the new flag, but he held back, and they passed by without looking up
The Red Balcony pleases on several levels: as an adventure tale, a star-crossed romance and a detailed period piece. Mr. Wilson’s novel is also strong as a legal thriller." —Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal

“A sizzling tale of murder and high politics, sex and betrayal . . . [The Red Balcony] successfully delves into the conflicting loyalties and identities of Mandate Palestine." —Robert Philpot, The Times of Israel

"A seductive historical novel . . . Despite the bright Mediterranean sun, The Red Balcony is essentially—in structure and in spirit—a noir . . . Wilson’s characters establish the ideological spectrum of 1930s Palestine, with each representing a political position we still find in Israel today . . .The Red Balcony is delightful for bringing the undeniable mystical tinge of that beautiful landscape to life . . . [yet ultimately] Wilson reminds us that the land of Israel has always housed 'multiple clashing dreams.'" —Randy Rosenthal, Los Angeles Times

“Throughout the novel, Wilson displays a great deal of empathy for his characters. He includes arresting, sometimes shocking imagery, such as a black swastika snapping smartly in the breeze, high above Jerusalem—reminding us that this is, after all, 1933. Between its near-painterly descriptions of the verdant Palestinian landscape, and its lively portrayals of Tel Aviv cafes and Jerusalem neighborhoods, Wilson’s prose is brimming with historical verisimilitude, intriguing revelations, and immersive detail. The result is one of the most satisfying literary portrayals of the pre-state Yishuv ever written.” —Ranen Omer-Sher­man, Jewish Book Council

"Tensions . . . permeate. Enveloped in the region’s oppressive heat and cacophonous politics, [Jonathan Wilson's Ivor] is prey to shifting moods of uncertainty and alienation."New York Times, “New Historical Fiction to Read in February”

"Jonathan Wilson’s beautifully paced Palestine novel kept me reading through the night. He knows his way intimately around this colony-as-crucible, a stony outpost of failing Empire teeming with Jews, Arabs, Brits who can be either and Brits who can be neither, High Commissioners, low criminals, artists, barristers, inspectors, and gendarmes, all of them trying to come to terms with Mandatory rule and the mandates of their own passions, which tend to get heated into history through politics and violence. The Red Balcony extends Wilson’s previous novels set in the region, this time through the story of what is arguably Israel’s foundational murder trial—a tale of multiple identities and loyalties that casts a shadow over the future State even while providing an eye-widening view of its author’s bright and fully ripened achievement."
—Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Netanyahus

“Brimming with intrigue and atmosphere, The Red Balcony is a captivating mystery set amid the tensions of British mandate Palestine, where allegiances are always shifting and the shadow of history looms.”
—Tova Mirvis, author of The Book of Separation

“Jonathan Wilson is spectacularly witty and wise, deeply generous and intelligent, and his novel The Red Balcony is extraordinary. Intimate and epic, character-driven and a flat-out page-turner, the book manages to be a work of meticulously investigated historical fiction that never feels weighed down by its research; what’s more, it is enviably prescient. In short, this is one of the best books I’ve read in years—I can’t stop thinking about it. A gorgeous new novel by one of our very finest writers.”
Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans

"Morality and passion collide in a sophisticated legal thriller. . . Wilson’s smart, fast-paced novel focuses on the months following the assassination of Haim Arlosoroff, gunned down on a Tel Aviv beach in June 1933 after he negotiates a controversial agreement with Hitler’s regime that will ease the international boycott against Nazi Germany in exchange for allowing more Jews to flee the country. Wilson maintains the suspense of the trial’s outcome until his atmospheric story’s concluding pages, but there’s much more to engage the reader before this mature work reaches its end.” 
Kirkus Review (starred)

“Wilson illuminates life in Palestine under the British Mandate in this engrossing legal drama . . . Vivid atmosphere animates Wilson’s story of expatriates, in the manner of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. With a mix of intrigue, romance, and 1930s realpolitik, the author immerses readers in Ivor’s initial confusion and growing sense of moral clarity. Historical fiction fans are in for a treat.”
Publishers Weekly
© Sharon Kaitz
JONATHAN WILSON is the author of eight previous books, including the novels The Hiding Room (a finalist for the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize) and A Palestine Affair (a New York Times Notable Book and National Jewish Book Award finalist); two short story collections, Schoom and An Ambulance Is on the Way; and the soccer memoir Kick and Run. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts. View titles by Jonathan Wilson

About

Based on actual events, a gripping novel of sex, love, history and justice in the tinderbox of British Mandatory Palestine, by the acclaimed author of A Palestine Affair

"The story of what is arguably Israel’s foundational murder trial—a tale of multiple identities and loyalties." —Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Netanyahus


“Pleases on several levels: as an adventure tale, a star-crossed romance and a detailed period piece.” —The Wall Street Journal 

It’s 1933, and Ivor Castle, Oxford-educated and Jewish, arrives in Palestine to take up a position as assistant to the defense counsel in the trial of the two men accused of murdering Haim Arlosoroff, a leader of the Jewish community in Palestine whose efforts to get Jews out of Hitler’s Germany and into Palestine may have been controversial enough to get him killed.
 
While preparing for the trial, Ivor, an innocent to the politics of the case, falls into bed and deeply in love with Tsiona, a free-spirited artist who happened to sketch the accused men in a Jerusalem café on the night of the murder and may be a key witness. As Ivor learns the hard way about the violence simmering just beneath the surface of British colonial rule, Jonathan Wilson dazzles with his mastery of the sun-drenched landscape and the subtleties of the warring agendas among the Jews, Arabs, and British.
 
And as he travels between the crime scene in Tel Aviv and the mazelike streets of Jerusalem, between the mounting mysteries surrounding this notorious case and clandestine lovemaking in Tsiona’s studio, Ivor must discover where his heart lies: whether he cares more for the law or the truth, whether he is more an Englishman or a Jew, and where and with whom he truly belongs.

Excerpt

Jerusalem
March 1933

 
Kohler, the receptionist, eyed the large brown paper package stamped, postmarked, and tied up with string that sat on the front desk between his silver bell and a diminished pile of the local German-language newspaper, the Mitteilungsblatt. He shifted it to the side in order to make room for two additional sets of newspapers, popular items for guests on their way in to breakfast even though the news they carried was always a week old. He had no interest in the bland front page of the London Times, but a photograph of a thin-faced figure with his hair swept back and its accompanying headline in the Frankfurter Zeitung briefly caught his attention: Josef Goebbels had been appointed minister of information and propaganda in Hitler’s new government.
 
He switched on the overhead fan and a wisp of smoke fell from the gears. Early morning light filtered through shade and touched the brown and mahogany furniture in the lobby, spinning dust motes off its armchairs. Kohler opened the blinds, returned to his desk, caught the sleeve of his jacket in his hand, and ran it across the polished wood to accomplish an extra shine. The newly admitted light spilled through the front windows and cut sharp white diagonals onto the wall behind him.
 
Kohler banged his hand on the bell and the two Arab boys, Ahmed and Ibrahim, who acted as weekday porters, clattered upstairs from the basement and appeared in the lobby. They looked around in vain for guests to assist and luggage to transport.
 
“Here,” Kohler said, handing over the package, “take it up.” He muttered some instructions to the boys and then they were gone. Easter was a month away; the great rush of pilgrims, mostly German, some British, was yet to arrive. Soon they would swell the congregation in the Church of the Redeemer, crowd the Via Dolorosa, and fill the Hotel Fast to capacity. Kohler, as Ellrich the manager had requested, was doing what he could to ensure that these tourists of the Holy Spirit received a rousing and congenial welcome upon their arrival.
 
The boys stood behind a balustrade that topped the ornate stone parapet on the second floor. Together they lowered the banner attached to the flagpole, removed the old flag, and replaced it with the new. A stiff breeze blew in from the desert to the south; the sky, shot through now with blue morning light, shimmered over the walls of the Old City. From their vantage point the boys could take in the distant bustle of activity around both the Damascus and Jaffa Gates. They winched the flagpole back into place.
 
Kohler stepped out of the hotel and crossed the cobblestone street, shooing a mongrel dog from his path. There was the Union Jack, and now hanging alongside it was the new German flag with its striking black swastika snapping in the March wind high above a broad swath of the streets of Jerusalem. Kohler observed it with pride. Perhaps, he thought, it might even be visible from his own home where it sat tucked in among a row of stone houses that his grandfather Stefan, a dutifully committed Templar from Ludwigsburg, had helped to build on the Street of Ghosts.
 
Two British soldiers in steel helmets, rifles in hand, approached on Kohler’s side of the street. He had an impulse to stop them and point out the new flag, but he held back, and they passed by without looking up

Reviews

The Red Balcony pleases on several levels: as an adventure tale, a star-crossed romance and a detailed period piece. Mr. Wilson’s novel is also strong as a legal thriller." —Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal

“A sizzling tale of murder and high politics, sex and betrayal . . . [The Red Balcony] successfully delves into the conflicting loyalties and identities of Mandate Palestine." —Robert Philpot, The Times of Israel

"A seductive historical novel . . . Despite the bright Mediterranean sun, The Red Balcony is essentially—in structure and in spirit—a noir . . . Wilson’s characters establish the ideological spectrum of 1930s Palestine, with each representing a political position we still find in Israel today . . .The Red Balcony is delightful for bringing the undeniable mystical tinge of that beautiful landscape to life . . . [yet ultimately] Wilson reminds us that the land of Israel has always housed 'multiple clashing dreams.'" —Randy Rosenthal, Los Angeles Times

“Throughout the novel, Wilson displays a great deal of empathy for his characters. He includes arresting, sometimes shocking imagery, such as a black swastika snapping smartly in the breeze, high above Jerusalem—reminding us that this is, after all, 1933. Between its near-painterly descriptions of the verdant Palestinian landscape, and its lively portrayals of Tel Aviv cafes and Jerusalem neighborhoods, Wilson’s prose is brimming with historical verisimilitude, intriguing revelations, and immersive detail. The result is one of the most satisfying literary portrayals of the pre-state Yishuv ever written.” —Ranen Omer-Sher­man, Jewish Book Council

"Tensions . . . permeate. Enveloped in the region’s oppressive heat and cacophonous politics, [Jonathan Wilson's Ivor] is prey to shifting moods of uncertainty and alienation."New York Times, “New Historical Fiction to Read in February”

"Jonathan Wilson’s beautifully paced Palestine novel kept me reading through the night. He knows his way intimately around this colony-as-crucible, a stony outpost of failing Empire teeming with Jews, Arabs, Brits who can be either and Brits who can be neither, High Commissioners, low criminals, artists, barristers, inspectors, and gendarmes, all of them trying to come to terms with Mandatory rule and the mandates of their own passions, which tend to get heated into history through politics and violence. The Red Balcony extends Wilson’s previous novels set in the region, this time through the story of what is arguably Israel’s foundational murder trial—a tale of multiple identities and loyalties that casts a shadow over the future State even while providing an eye-widening view of its author’s bright and fully ripened achievement."
—Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Netanyahus

“Brimming with intrigue and atmosphere, The Red Balcony is a captivating mystery set amid the tensions of British mandate Palestine, where allegiances are always shifting and the shadow of history looms.”
—Tova Mirvis, author of The Book of Separation

“Jonathan Wilson is spectacularly witty and wise, deeply generous and intelligent, and his novel The Red Balcony is extraordinary. Intimate and epic, character-driven and a flat-out page-turner, the book manages to be a work of meticulously investigated historical fiction that never feels weighed down by its research; what’s more, it is enviably prescient. In short, this is one of the best books I’ve read in years—I can’t stop thinking about it. A gorgeous new novel by one of our very finest writers.”
Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans

"Morality and passion collide in a sophisticated legal thriller. . . Wilson’s smart, fast-paced novel focuses on the months following the assassination of Haim Arlosoroff, gunned down on a Tel Aviv beach in June 1933 after he negotiates a controversial agreement with Hitler’s regime that will ease the international boycott against Nazi Germany in exchange for allowing more Jews to flee the country. Wilson maintains the suspense of the trial’s outcome until his atmospheric story’s concluding pages, but there’s much more to engage the reader before this mature work reaches its end.” 
Kirkus Review (starred)

“Wilson illuminates life in Palestine under the British Mandate in this engrossing legal drama . . . Vivid atmosphere animates Wilson’s story of expatriates, in the manner of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. With a mix of intrigue, romance, and 1930s realpolitik, the author immerses readers in Ivor’s initial confusion and growing sense of moral clarity. Historical fiction fans are in for a treat.”
Publishers Weekly

Author

© Sharon Kaitz
JONATHAN WILSON is the author of eight previous books, including the novels The Hiding Room (a finalist for the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize) and A Palestine Affair (a New York Times Notable Book and National Jewish Book Award finalist); two short story collections, Schoom and An Ambulance Is on the Way; and the soccer memoir Kick and Run. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts. View titles by Jonathan Wilson