Interview: Lavie Tidhar on Osama

Lavie Tidhar talks to Stephen Jewell about scooping the World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama

Sometimes outsiders really do prevail. Up against heavyweight bestsellers like George RR Martin’s A Dance With Dragons and Stephen King’s 11/22/63, no one was more surprised than Lavie Tidhar when his novel Osama claimed the Best Novel prize at this year’s World Fantasy Awards in Toronto last weekend.

Osama By Lavie Tidhar“It was a very surreal moment,” a heavily jet-lagged Tidhar tells SFX just after stepping off the plane from Canada. “I was sitting there and pretty much everyone around me was somebody whose books I grew up reading. It was very humbling being in the audience because there was a big cheer when it was announced. I got the sense that a lot of people were rooting for me as it was a bit of an underdog book.”

The Tel Aviv-born author admits that he wasn’t prepared for the inevitable consequences of scooping such a prestigious accolade. “I didn’t realise there was such a high level of interest that comes along with it,” he says. “It’s been exciting but a bit scary as well because I’m quite a private person but then I wrote a book called Osama. You try and keep things private but there have been a lot of phone calls and emails. It was featured in Israel on the main newspaper website and people commented on the article including some of my high school teachers from twenty years ago.”

Bringing to mind The Singing Detective if it were written by Philip K Dick, the story combines film noir with alternate history as it centres around a private investigator who sets out to track down the mysterious author of a series of novels featuring the one and only, “Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante.” “Maybe it was helped by the fact that it isn’t a traditional fantasy book and that it’s trying to ask some uncomfortable questions,” suggests Tidhar. “It wasn’t an obvious choice as I’m sure it left a lot of people shaking their heads and wondering what it was.”

Originally published in September 2011, Osama hit the bookshelves several months after American forces in Pakistan dramatically killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011. “Part of the irony of what it’s about is that Osama Bin Laden doesn’t actually appear in it but I like to think his shadow is over the book,” says Tidhar. “It was strange because when I wrote it and when we trying to sell it, he hadn’t been captured … the book has got nothing to do with that directly, it’s more about the impact of terrorism on the victims than the terrorist masterminds, who are like the least interesting part of it.”

Lavie Tidhar

Bin Laden’s death inspired Tidhar to pen a coda to his original tale “The Last Osama,” which originally appeared in Interzone and is currently available as an ebook. “I was just trying to get it out of my system once and for all,” he says. “The book is about how reality is often more unbelievable than pulp fiction and here we had this rather bizarre assassination of Osama Bin Laden with a body that’s disposed of at sea. Then there are all these conspiracy theories as they didn’t capture him and put him on trial, they didn’t even show the body. It’s about the way we rewrite our own lives in the media and how reality is becoming increasingly like a bad pulp novel in many ways.”

After being originally published as a limited edition by PS Publishing, Osama is now available in paperback through Solaris. “The book was hard to get hold of because it’s a very expensive hardcover,” says Tidhar. “Most publishers have been very nervous about touching the book but Solaris said that they would like to get it into shops and into people’s hands. I didn’t expect that as a year ago I expected the book to be published and quickly forgotten.”

Hopefully Osama’s big win will lead to more attention for Tidhar’s next novel, which he finished just as he was jetting off to the World Fantasy Con. “It’s a novel about a superhero and I’m really excited about it,” reveals Tidhar. “It’s sort of a spy thriller and a love story set mostly in World War Two. It intersects with some of the same places Osama goes to. It’s a bit more fun and lighter than Osama but still hopefully has some weight behind it. I’m also doing a pulp thing for fun as I’m trying to write an old style book that Mike Longshott – the pulp writer in Osama – would have written so I guess I’m still working that out of my system.”

Stephen Jewell

Osama is available now, published by Solaris. You can read a Book Club piece written by Lavie Tidhar for SFX in issue 228 – the topic is CL Moore’s Black Gods And Scarlet Dreams.