It seems that this book has received a considerable number of accolades from non-Amazon reviewers. For me, reading Tidhar's work was like plodding through a fog-enshrouded swamp without a compass. I would have rated it a "one star," except for the final 75 pages, which finally "picked up the pace." Like most of the novel itself, I wasn't sure if the preface, listing two pages of supposed praise for this "provocative and fast-moving tale," were real or imagined.
I would characterize OSAMA as more of an "alternate reality" essay than an "alternate history." At its conclusion, it leaves many unanswered questions. "Joe" (the protagonist) is often described by the other characters as a "refugee," a "ghost," or a "fuzzy-wuzzy." Has Joe died as a result of a terrorist bombing in our "real" world? Is he now trapped between our world and a reality in which Osama bin Laden is only a persona appearing in under-the-counter pulp fiction? Or is Joe simply immersed in an opium-filled hallucination? (The cover of the book and pages between chapters depict apparent cigarette or pipe smoke.)
On the plus side, Tidhar penned several thought-provoking sections. I particularly liked the scene in which Joe, wandering though a strange house, spots a large picture frame titled TIME'S MAN OF THE YEAR, and sees an image of himself. It turns out that the frame outlines a mirror, and Joe simply gazes into his own reflection.
Unfortunately, the author's constant use of short, choppy sentences and agonizingly poor similes and metaphors makes OSAMA difficult to read. A few examples are listed below:
"The girl closed the book and laid it back down on the desk, carefully, as if handling a valuable object. 'Do you think so?' she said. He didn't know what to answer her. He remained silent. She remained standing. They looked at each other and he wondered what she saw. Her fingers were quite long and thin. Her ears were a little pointy. At last, she said, 'I want you to find him,' and her fingers caressed the book."
"The point of transit was like the epicentre of two opposing forces, like the equilibrium found when an equal pull is exerted on a body from all directions."
Before picking up this novel, be forewarned that it is dark and dismal. It's like an apocalyptic ALICE IN WONDERLAND or ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, except in this case, the rabbit hole and mirror contain far less illumination, and Alice never finds her way out.