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The Prize-Winning Story
The Prize-Winning Story is a fiction travelogue--a group of American tourists arrive in the Holy Land on U.S. Presidential Election Day, 2016, and as they tour for twelve days, they compete with each other to win the big prize offered by the tour host, Pastor Vladdy, producer of the weekly radio show, For Zion’s Sake. The challenge--tell the best story and get your trip paid for! Vladdy believes passionately that God calls Christians to stand with Jews and the State of Israel. The best story will reflect that value. He teams with Major Eli Bloom, an Israeli counter-terrorist and pistol-packing Orthodox Jew. They challenge the tourists to tell the best story and win the big prize. Then everything falls apart on the final day. Eli takes offense over Vladdy’s "What about the Palestinians?" and leaves on a deadly secret mission.
Reviews
In this layered and ambitious Chaucer riff, Reed (Both My Sons) dares to set a pilgrims’ story-telling contest in the most heated of contemporary religious milieus: He’s imagined a squad of American fans of a Christian radio show called “For Zion’s Sake” touring Israel on the day of Donald Trump’s election. The tour leader, an end-times minded raid host named Vladdy, agrees to the idea of a contest, first proposed by Israel’s Major Eli Bloom, “Israel’s top expert on terrorism,” a guest lecturer celebrated by Vladdy for offering “None of this politically correct ‘Islam is the religion of peace’ stuff.” Vladdy’s enthusiasm for Jewishness is undercut by his cluelessness: Early on, he schedules a car trip with Bloom on Shabbat, and they end up hoofing it eight miles. Soon enough, though, Vladdy’s pilgrims are touring the holy sites and dishing a surprising variety of tales, among them a contemporary refugee drama, a scarifying account of an American serviceman’s deployments to Iraq, a meditation on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, and a fiery denunciation of sexual predation in the seminary.

As the tour (and the tales) go on, Vladdy finds his American assumptions about Israeli life challenged by exposure to the reality, especially as he faces a surprising confrontation involving his own family. The question What about the Palestinians? comes to haunt him, and the book builds toward a complex ending that laces the joy of the pilgrims’ faith and camaraderie with geopolitical tragedy.

No satiric novel about the Middle East could please all readers, of course, but Reed’s approach is smart and sensitive, even as he gleefully satirizes the relationship between American evangelicals and Israeli hardliners. His prose is sharp, even cutting at times, but there’s nothing parodic about many of his pilgrims’ stories, which take faith seriously. Even Vladdy, at first a caricature, emerges as a figure of pathos; it’s moving to see the scales fall from his eyes.

Takeaway: Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, this satire finds American Christians facing the reality of the Holy Land.

Great for fans of: Randy Boyagoda’s Original Prin, Terry Lindvall’s God Mocks.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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