The inspiration for this novel came from the John Wayne classic western ‘The Searchers’.
John Wayne returns from the American civil war to live with his brother’s family, settlers in Comanche territory in the American West. The Comanches attack the settlement and kill everybody, but steal away Wayne’s toddler niece. Wayne deeply hates American ‘Indians’, and for 13 years, along with his nephew, searches the wilderness for his niece, wanting to kill her to prevent her becoming an ‘Injun’. However, over the years he develops a respect for his foe, recognises that they too have been aggrieved, and all ends happily.
The movie explores two themes – the long search for a stolen child, and the violent conflict between two polarised cultures.
I decided to set a novel with broadly similar theme in a modern setting, where one culture is expanding into the physical territory of another, with its inevitable violence. Israeli settlement expansion into Palestine came immediately to mind, and because I have spent some time in Northern Israel decided to set the first part of the novel there. For purely logistical reasons I decided to locate the settlement from which the child was stolen in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights of Syria, as opposed to a settlement in the West Bank.
As with all novels, it quickly acquired a momentum all of its own, and soon deviated sharply away from the core story of ‘The Searchers’. The protagonist Harry Katz – the father of the missing child – is a Palestinian sympathiser, but only to a point. One of his antagonists, a work ‘colleague’, hates Palestinians, and he is more akin to the character john Wayne plays. Their names are even similar. Eshan in the novel, and Ethan in the movie.
While the novel is the story of a father’s desperate search for his stolen daughter, it weaves along the fault lines of the bitter and seemingly intractable conflicts of the region. It does not answer any questions about who is right, and who is wrong.