Dirt by Sarah Sultoon

This is no utopia…

1996. Northern Israel. Lola leaves an unhappy home life in England for the fabled utopian life of a kibbutz, but this heavily guarded farming community on the Arab-Israeli border isn’t the idyll it seems, and tensions are festering.

Hundreds of miles away, in the Jerusalem offices of the International Tribune newspaper, all eyes are on Israel’s response to a spate of rocket attacks from Lebanon, until cub reporter Jonny Murphy gets a tip from a mysterious source that sends him straight into the danger zone.

When the body of an Arab worker is discovered in the dirt of the kibbutz chicken house, it triggers a series of events that puts Lola and the whole community in jeopardy, and Jonny begins to uncover a series of secrets that put everything at risk, as he begins to realise just how far some people will go to belong…


Books for me are a source of great joy, they take me to places I will probably never visit, or to worlds that only exist in my imagination! I want them to pull me from the world and events I live alongside, to transform my immediate surroundings into tropical islands, deserts or seedy cities full of criminals and characters of all descriptions! So when I first pick up a new book, I’m both excited and a little nervous that it will do all this. Dirt by Sarah Sultoon did that and more, it took me from a wet and rainy Wales, yep that is why the grass is always green here, to Northern Israel. To a Kibbutz that sits on the border between Israel and Lebanon, where in the dirt in which their crops grow and secrets from the past threaten to destroy a community already tottering on the edge of an abyss.

The characterisation is amazing, both the main characters Lola and Johnny and those that weave their way in and out of their lives. The secrets that haunt them all, is what creates the tension in the story and a building sense of anxiety in the reader. At one point I was so anxious about their fate I nearly did something I would never normally do, take a peak at the end, but I resisted and allowed the building pressure to reach a very thrilling conclusion. Both Johnny and Lola are damaged by their pasts and seeking to find a future in which they can feel rooted into a life that feels safe enough to stop the past consuming their lives. Sarah Sultoon managed to not only make me care about them, she made me actively dream of a better future for both. No all that troubles them is resolved and that left questions unanswered, but for me that was perfect, because life is complex as well as fluid and doesn’t stop when the story concludes.

It is a intense and exciting thriller that manages to be both compulsive as well as unbearably tense! We find ourselves in a story set on the literal border between two countries at war and it creates an atmosphere that becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the story progresses. The inhabitants of the Kibbutz live with the threat of violence every single day, they work and live in a community that is fighting for it’s very survival. Just reading the blurb on the back set my nerves on edge, that delicious feeling of anticipation when picking up a book you instinctively know is going to be great, if it can only live up to the potential teased at in the blurb. Dirt by Sarah Sultoon did, it delivered on all levels, leaving me at moments so on edge, so utterly mesmerised that I forgot about the rain, the news, my own worries and felt instead the almost unbearable heat on my skin, the dirt between my toes. I felt touched by the temporary insanity caused by running from bombs hurtling over their heads, wondering if this one would end both their lives and the community that had provided a refuge from the secrets they’re hiding from. That is the measure of how good this novel is, I became Lola who has run from an unhappy home life, I became Johnny who is seeking answers about past betrayals. I lived and breathed in the story set in the dirt of a land torn apart by a history so devastating, that this story couldn’t help but be a reflection of the pain caused by war. Within it’s pages Sarah Sultoon manages to capture how all the tensions from the conflict, the secrets of those that live within the Kibbutz form the perfect storm, where death feels an almost inventible consequence of both the history of the land and those that seek out a life lived on the edge of war.

You can buy this book directly from the publisher Orenda Books.

From Amazon or Waterstones

About the author

Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if…..

You can follow the author on Twitter


4 thoughts on “Dirt by Sarah Sultoon

  1. Davida Chazan says:

    Well, I’m not into reading thrillers, but one set on a Kibbutz in Northern Israel sounds very different! By the way, in that region, it isn’t always extremely hot, especially on a Kibbutz that’s located in the hills. I’ve lived in Northern Israel, and I also lived on a Kibbutz – two, actually – and while there wasn’t any intrigue, the gossiping on them can be pretty harrowing! Now… 1996 is significant because of the barrage of bombs. But I have to say that even when bombs are falling, Israelis tend to adopt the British “keep calm and carry on” attitude, and don’t let these get too much in the way of their everyday life (nights, on the other hand…).

    Liked by 1 person

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