Queen Solomon

An exploration of obsession, desire, addiction, trauma, power, and race told with captivatingly uncomfortable, confusing, alluring style. Told from the point of view of a young man and frequently through the lens of drug and alcohol abuse or the onset of mental illness, the reader has a front-row seat witnessing his entry into and persistent return to a profoundly complicated relationship.
From the publisher’s website:

The erotic awakening and mental disintegration of an intense young man who leaves home and enters the phantasm of Israel. It’s just another boring summer for our teenaged narrator – until Barbra arrives. An Ethiopian Jew, Barbra was brought to Israel at age five, a part of Operation Solomon, and now our narrator’s well-intentioned father has brought her, as a teen, to their home for the summer. But Barbra isn’t the docile and grateful orphan they expect, and soon our narrator, terrified of her and drawn to her in equal measure, finds himself immersed in compulsive psychosexual games with her, as she binge-drinks and lies to his family. Things go terribly wrong, and Barbra flees. But seven years later, as our narrator is getting his life back on track, with a new girlfriend and a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies underway, Barbra shows up at our narrator’s house once again, her “spiritual teacher” in tow, and our narrator finds his politics, and his sanity, back in question.


In spite of the level of discomfort that this book elicited from me, I read it through in one sitting. It’s short but lacks nothing for intensity. Some readers might have difficulty with the frequency of graphic sexual episodes and the seemingly unnecessarily long descriptions of some scenes with a lack of detail in seemingly more important ones. This would be more bothersome for me were the book not narrated from a first person point of view. Rather, from the point of view of one in the midst of complicated, situations of high intensity, this confusion heightens the experience, even if it is uncomfortable for the reader.

Though for different reasons, the enchanting and alluring discomfort and confusion that I experienced while reading Queen Solomon reminded me of reading The Magus by John Fowles. The persistent uncertainty of what was going on, unable to always distinguish truth from fiction, and questioning which events were real and which may have been confined to the narrator’s own mind make for a disorienting read. Disorienting, but not for poor writing, rather very well-written. So much so that I think this is the experience that Berger intends the reader to have.

A final point: the cover art is truly beautiful and one of the reasons that I picked up the book in the first place.

A very worthwhile short read.


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