Coming from a rising voice in Israel’s left-wing diaspora, The Sodomites follows a gang of rogues in open rebellion against a settler state that crushes bodies, steals water, destroys communities, and cuts down ancient olive trees. Traveling through Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Palestinian villages in the West Bank, and the desert near the Dead Sea, we are introduced to Prof, an Israeli computer scientist and hacker, Aya, a Palestinian anarchist and visionary, Yaniv, a disgruntled, traumatized vet from the IDF, and Zvika, an Iraqi Jew and long time saboteur. As they get to know one another and embark on a campaign of sabotage against the occupation and the ecological destruction it wreaks, it becomes clear that this novel is a homage to The Monkey Wrench Gang, but with a clearly queer, transfeminist vision of struggle that exorcises the rampant misogyny that cursed Edward Abbey’s masterpiece.
The title is a reference to Lot’s wife, who looked back in compassion as God destroyed the city and was turned to a pillar of salt, and to the doomed denizens of Sodom itself, a sinful, earthy, chthonic element connected to the landscape, those who were burned with fire or turned to salt, left behind, becoming part of the earth, unlike Lot and the angels who are the heroes of the biblical tale. It is this story, this vision of resistance, that the rebels associate with when they name themselves the Sodomites. As such, their rebellion unfolds across simultaneous dimensions—political, ecological, linguistic, technological, sexual, spiritual.
The road of Callai’s writing is occasionally a little bumpy, this is their first novel, but the places it takes you are beautiful, enticing, and grim, the journey exciting, the destination promising. The politics break with the easy labels that can get thrown up around our struggles. Is this about ecology or an apartheid state, anti-racism or queer liberation? It is of course about all of those things, as any struggle must be in order to break with the limits of civic society in the search of lives—interconnected, healthy, happy—that are truly worth living.
Exploration of the terrain is also a key feature of the story, and through the eyes of the protagonists Callai shows us a desert that has been ravished by megaprojects, but retains a lush geology from which surprising denizens appear and go on about their lives. We get to know old Palestinian villages, supported by olive orchards and dry pasture lands, their people surviving, drinking from a well of dignity, bravery, and solidarity, even as settlements encroach from all sides. And we are plunged into the contradictions of a cosmopolitan Jerusalem, full of heavily armed soldiers, entitled American tourists, Arabic wage workers, and a checkerboard of religious communities.
The novel does a good job of fulfilling many of the aspirations of radical fiction: it shares stories that are marginalized in the mainstream; it fills in the theoretical map of a well known oppression (the occupation of Palestine) with living, human detail; it serves as a careful monument to forms of human and natural beauty that are currently faced with destruction; it popularizes ongoing struggles; it problematizes the simplistic dichotomies with which mainstream media obviate real injustices (such as the reductionism of Israelis vs. Palestinians); it provides us with an imaginary that is hopeful while also being rooted in the very real oppressions of the present moment; and it animates us with an adventure that is not escapist or mind-numbing.
Even better, Sodomites manifests a harmony between means and ends in the very way it is published. Rather than reaching a mass audience through one of the Big 5 Publishers that dominate the book industry and that tend to turn away radical literature even as they increasingly commercialize diversity, Adi Callai has made this book available through Xi Draconis, a small publisher that distributes a small print run for free and then distributes e-books, also for free. In other words, it is a publisher that distributes books not to make a profit but out of a love for the stories and a commitment to provide a platform for “literary works of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry that rebel, that rail against social injustice, against hatred, poverty, hunger, privatization, the celebration of ignorance, objectification, racism, exploitation, sexism, and commodification.” True to form, they “believe that presses should operate not as capitalist businesses but rather as curators, as stewards in the task of preserving and disseminating excellent literature.” And one way they do this is through the “free sharing” of literature.
In a way, this method of storytelling is an invitation: do we let major corporations determine which stories are shared on the basis of profitability, turning readership and human communication into a market? Or do we take up storytelling as a project of liberation with the same dedication as authors like Adi Callai and publishers like Xi Draconis? The Sodomites is free online. The only limit to its widespread distribution is our own initiative.
Just like its method of storytelling and publication, the novel itself is open-ended. It provides no easy solutions nor deceptive closure. Though I found the ending satisfying, it by no means hides the fact that the struggle is still, urgently, ongoing. As the gang carries out more ambitious acts of sabotage and try to use their actions to aid ongoing movements and the cops pick up their trail, the book delivers just what it promises: a keen-eyed adventure that takes place at the exact intersection of revenge, social justice, and healing ourselves and the planet. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for Adi Callai’s next work.