The Salt Line

Fiction - Literary
860 Pages
Reviewed on 09/22/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

The Salt Line by Youval Shimoni, translated into English from Hebrew by Michael Sharp, is a work of literary fiction that, after a political assassination, has Russian Jewish rebel Poliakov running from the law and ending up in Leh, India. A British doctor, McKenzie, provides medical care for the fugitive Poliakov. McKenzie uses manufactured artifacts and tales of faith to exact revenge against an Italian archaeologist who absconded with his willing wife. Both men take advantage of people's propensity for self-serving parables, despite having no religion. In Israel, India, and England, their choices persist through the generations and feed a vicious cycle. These stories, which are deftly intertwined and span decades, infer that the lives of its characters are predestined, much like the falsified ancient texts they produce.

The first thing that really needs to be applauded is the translation of the original Hebrew edition by Michael Sharp, as the undertaking of retaining the full spirit of The Salt Line by Youval Shimoni is a monumental task. I do not envy him, but I certainly do thank him. The prose is gorgeous, and Shimoni uses his cast of characters well, some of whom we are only shown connections to as the story progresses. As a reader, I got a real sense of the landscapes that Shimoni makes into almost characters themselves. Sand that never ends, mothers in dilapidated apartments that house men by the minute, and children who pay for the sins of their fathers. I loved the dialogue and the complete irony in so much of it. After doggedly pursuing revenge, when hearing another story, McKenzie asks, "Why would a man do such a thing to himself?" Well, the answer to that is unclear, but what is very clear is that the journey of trying to find out is absolutely worth the read.

K.C. Finn

The Salt Line is a work of fiction in the literary style and sociocultural drama subgenre. It is best suited to adult readers. Penned by author Youval Shimoni, the book is a literary journey that traverses continents, generations, and the complexities of human relationships. It opens in 1904, with a wounded Russian Jew finding refuge in northern India, escaping both pursuers and his own conscience. The novel weaves together two distinct yet interconnected narratives, one centered on acts of terrorism and pogroms in early 20th-century Russia, the other on a modern-day quest for revenge.

Author Youval Shimoni takes readers on a captivating odyssey as he effortlessly connects characters, places, and events across time and space to map out an impressive big picture pieced together from small, personal events. The characters, spanning diverse nationalities and beliefs, are vividly portrayed, each with their own motivations and moral dilemmas. The intricate web of betrayal, vengeance, and redemption keeps readers enthralled. As the story unfolds, the narrative oscillates between past and present, deftly revealing how the actions of ancestors ripple through generations, shaping the lives of their descendants. The shifting landscapes, from St. Petersburg to the Indian Himalayas, offer a rich backdrop for this profound exploration of human nature and destiny and are gorgeously described to enhance the emotions, culture, and flavor of the action. Thanks to the author’s commitment to research and detail, but also to human empathy, the work is a thought-provoking exploration that blurs the boundaries of time and place, leaving a lasting impression on those who embark on this literary adventure. Overall, The Salt Line is an engrossing tapestry of history, culture, and human psychology, inviting readers to reflect on the enduring impact of choices and the cyclical nature of history.

Jamie Michele

The Salt Line by Youval Shimoni is set in different eras of the 1900s. The growth of the plot revolves around different men. Dr. McKenzie, a young English doctor, loses his wife to a well-known Italian archaeologist while they are still on their honeymoon. He is naturally enraged, but his resentment is so overwhelming that he relocates to Leh, Northern India, and comes up with a plan to humiliate the offending archaeologist by painting him as a con artist. Working with him to plant forged and fraudulent artifacts is fugitive Russian Polyakov, who has unknowingly fathered a child with a woman who subsequently relocated to Palestine. Generations later, Amnon, Polyakov's grandchild, begins combing through his family's past in order to discover a collective legacy and make sense of his own life.

The Salt Line by Youval Shimoni, translated by Michael Sharp, is a sprawling narrative that weaves together multiple storylines and characters across time and beautifully explores themes of identity, loyalty, and the complex interplay of personal histories. It took some time for me to sink my teeth into the book because Shimoni is intentionally slow in revealing who the characters are and how their timelines might converge. Sharp has gifted us with a book that is otherwise inaccessible without a translation. The gift of his hard work deserves as much praise as the book because, obviously, we would not even have it without him. I appreciate stories that personalize the weight of history and break down notable events into how individuals managed them on a micro level, so Amnon's struggle with war was the brightest thread for me. Very highly recommended.