In Osama, Lavie Tidhar has created the ultimate in escapist fiction, a world where Osama Bin Laden is only a character in a book, where the acts of destruction and terror he was responsible for are only parts of a fictional canon. Indeed, the acts are outlandish and nearly inconceivable in the world Tidhar renders, comprehendible only as over the top pulp fiction.
Osama begins like many detective novels, as a client seeks out a detective to locate someone. Not just anyone, mind you, but the famous writer Mike Longshott, author of the popular Osama Bin-Laden: Vigilante series, which includes the novels Sinai Bombings, Assignment: Africa, and World Trade Centre. Longshott is a reclusive celebrity, the beneficiary of cultish adoration, on the level of a J. K. Rowling or a Stephanie Meyer.
The detective who takes the case is just a guy named Joe; his investigations take him from Vientiane, Laos, to Paris, to America, and eventually to Afghanistan. Along the way, Joe meets a number of stock characters--dangerous thugs, broken women, fat men, recalcitrant bartenders, and the like--and lives through a number of stock situations, such as shaking tails, breathless chases, and taking beatings from the opposition. Along the way, he encounters the facades that have been erected to insulate the man he's been asked to find, and the facades that perhaps conceal the entryways to another reality entirely, one where the outlandish events depicted in the Longshott books are the stuff of everyday headlines.
In creating a reality where the only landscape the war on terror occupies is fictional, Tidhar has created an effective, but less painful way, for his readers to look at, and try to comprehend, the enormous effect terrorism has had on their lives, and more importantly, their psyches. Indeed, Osama, shortly before he was killed, had become a boogeyman on the level of Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, the only difference being that he had actually committed horrifc acts. Making him fictional, and interspersing excerpts of his exploits as breaks in the noirish mystery story being told, allows readers to approach the subject at an angle, and to think about their impact with the benefit of a little distance. By positing a world where Osama is only a fictional demon, Tidhar not only allows us to escape from our awful reality for a moment, but also to take a step back and consider just what we've lost over the past decade, in terms of comfort, blood, and the erosion of freedoms we once took for granted.