The Land Agent is the third novel in The Glasgow to Galilee trilogy, and is a fictional narrative set within an historical context. Each of the books in The Glasgow to Galilee trilogy – The Credit Draper, The Liberation of Celia Khan and The Land Agent – can be read either in sequence or as stand-alone novels. In this final volume of the trilogy, Simons open his readers’ eyes to the Palestinian fight for land in the 1920s and 30s and to the human cost involved. Do not be afraid to pick up and read this book for fear of having no knowledge of the long and complex struggles Palestine has endured during the last century. Simons’ narrative guides the reader through the actual historical events with ease, all whilst relating the wonderfully heart-warming and poignant story of Lev, a Polish-Jewish immigrant boy. Although on one level the book is a work of fiction, the author does also give a sense of the much larger and real issues within Palestine during the timeframe of the novel.
Born in Glasgow in 1953, the author gave up his law practice in Edinburgh to live for six years on a communal settlement near the Jordan River that runs between Israel and Jordan. He worked in the cotton and alfalfa fields, which brought him into close contact with families who had endured decades of civil war over settlement and land rights. These people are given a voice in The Land Agent; the Bedouins, the Arabs, and the British administration that supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, resulting in the conflict which continues to this day.
There are recurring and conflicting themes of harmony and discord, and dependency and abandonment, throughout the novel. The narrative exposes how human beings have an in-built dependence on one another for love and subsistence. This is pitted against sudden abandonment, prejudice and conflict, and the endurance to survive. The Land Agent begins with Lev, a young Polish-Jewish immigrant, on his journey into adulthood and out of a Poland, where he has never felt at home. Lev follows his heart and a girl he is enraptured by, named Sarah, into an unsettled Palestine. There he encounters a Bedouin tribe whose ancestors have lived by the trans-Jordan river for generations. Alongside the Bedouin, Jewish settlers have built up their own community settlement. Both live in harmony and are equally reliant on the land resources around them. That is, until Lev arrives with a secret that will put an end to their harmony and bring havoc to many lives.
The book is not an exhaustive history but a microcosm of events that were occurring in Palestine at that time. Simons writes a rich and compelling novel. The book has surprisingly short chapters of only a few pages in length. Of the 39 chapters, the longest is a mere 9 pages long. However, the author’s skill lies in the narrative style he deploys. The free indirect discourse and the dialogue never seem to meander far from the unfolding plot. That way the momentum is maintained with twists and turns that see beautiful landscapes turn into scorched and inhospitable lands, love scenes suddenly turn sour and, when we least expect it, scenes of dread and panic. Due to its short length, The Land Agent is a novel that can be read easily in one or two sittings, whilst nevertheless seeming to deliver the same rich detail of a book double its length.
The story at times is extremely moving and can echo through any land that has witnessed displaced people and their journey towards a new life. As the daughter of a Polish refugee this aspect resonated with me personally and offered up a far-reaching and timeless cry.