Monday, September 24, 2007

"The Collaborator of Bethlehem," the movie

Matt Beynon Rees' debut novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, is the first in a series about Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef. Rees lives in Jerusalem.

Earlier this year he applied the Page 69 Test to the novel; now he has imagined a film adaptation of the story for My Book, the Movie.

His entry opens:
The spark for my novel The Collaborator of Bethlehem was my friendship with a Palestinian in late middle-age who lives in the Dehaisha Refugee Camp, a southern neighborhood of Bethlehem. I admired this man deeply for his integrity and decency, despite the violence engulfing his community during the intifada. But I also found him to be extraordinarily prickly. He would become angry at me for my misunderstandings of Palestinian life, for my friendships with others whom he didn't trust, or simply for not having to undergo the same humiliations that were a daily source of pain to him. I made considerable allowances for the pressures under which he lived and enjoyed his wonderful insights and great humor, but even so it was difficult to face his occasional wrath.

On a break from covering the intifada for Time Magazine, in a hotel room in Rome, I decided to turn my friend into Omar Yussef, the schoolteacher forced to turn detective in a lawless Bethlehem. It struck me that instead of feeling hurt by my friend's outbursts, I could view them as research. Omar made it possible for me to grow even closer to my friend.

When I wrote the book, I always had this friend's image, voice and thinking in my mind. I didn't need to place an actor in the role of Omar Yussef -- though I believe that's a good technique for writers seeking to make their characters concrete in their own heads. I always had this friend -- and other friends on whom the main characters are based -- before me.

But as soon as the book sold to Soho Press in the U.S., people began to ask, "Who'll play the lead in the movie version?" [read on]
Read more about the novel at Matt Beynon Rees' website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

My Book, The Movie: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

--Marshal Zeringue