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First Among Nations: A Novel About Struggle and Perseverance in the Holy Land
Ira Mosen. Olive Blossom, $18.95 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-7353741-0-9
Mosen smoothly incorporates religious and social messages into his triumphant debut about the rise of an Israeli soccer prodigy. As a child, Elazar bristles at his restrictive upbringing and the long hours his parents make him spend studying. After seeing some kids play soccer, he becomes obsessed with the sport—despite his father’s prohibition of what he views as a frivolous diversion from studying Talmud. By sneaking out to dedicate every free moment he can find to the sport, though, Elazar becomes a gifted player, enabling him to land a spot on a youth league team. When it’s time for him to do his military service, he joins a unit whose commander is known for a love of the game and, by excelling in the Army team, Elazar miraculously puts himself in a position to represent his country at the World Cup. The outlandish yet enjoyable story branches out from the sports narrative to offer nuanced takes on Arab-Jewish friendships and ethnic prejudice, and explore the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though the soccer elements can feel far-fetched, Mosen’s bildungsroman will appeal to readers who like a feel-good yarn. (Self-published)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on 02/05/2021

Release date 08/01/2020