In 1906 a young Englishwoman, a painter named Beatrice Campbell-Bennett, arrives in Palestine, intending to study and paint the flowers that are mentioned in the Old Testament. She is particularly interested in the mandrake, with which Leah bought a night of love with Jacob. Travelling with an Arab companion around the country, still under Ottoman rule, the Christian tourist becomes acquainted with everyday life in the Holy Land during the Jewish immigration wave known as the 'Second Aliyah.' Combining fact and fiction in the form of diary entries and letters, the novel reveals the heroine's complex and unstable personality. It transpires that Beatrice's religiosity is bound up with her erotic attraction for Vanessa Stephen (Virginia Woolf's sister), and her life in the Bloomsbury Group. The Holy Land awakens her repressed passions and incipient madness, culminating in a double rape, once by an Arab in Nablus and once by a philandering Jew. Megged combines motifs from both the Old and the New Testaments with psychological insights and mythological patterns, unfolding a gripping, colorful tapestry of Palestine at the start of the century.
Megged... adroitly addresses the difficulty of finding truth among competing versions of the same story. At times as cruelly beautiful as Paul Bowles’s godless prose, this Sphinx-like novel offers a striking portrait of the Middle East – past, present and, perhaps, future.
Kirkus Reviews - Starred review
A learned, compelling book.
One of Megged's most interesting novels... Written with inspiration and from the writer's deep need. Reading Mandrakes is a pleasure at every level, his language is superb and the descriptions are beautiful and illuminating.
Megged knows how to spin a tale; he creates a gripping plot and a fictional world that attaches us to him and his protagonists and makes us forget the world around us for a while.