Book Jacket


rank 5907
word count 12311
date submitted 23.03.2009
date updated 18.04.2012
genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
classification: universal

Under Philadelphi Road

Stewart Ronen

An intelligence service orders an espionage network in Egypt to launch an operation to capture the world’s most wanted Nazi war criminal.


For eleven-year-old Ismail, life in Rafah is like an empty shell. When a group of boys from his neighborhood accept him as their friend, life begins to have meaning. Being able to help them build a smuggling tunnel under the border consolidates the friendship. But fate has a plan of its own. The tunnel that he is digging collapses and he is trapped alone on the Egyptian side. A Bedouin couple promises to get him back home via al-Arish but destiny has a different plan. He lands up in Cairo where he wanders the streets earning pennies strumming on his rababah. One day, he meets a wealthy businessman who asks him to come and work for him. Ismail eventually moves into the businessman's villa and is groomed and prepared for what he later realizes is the real reason he was born.

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arab, cairo, egypt, espionage, fiction, gaza, international, israel, literary, middle east, mossad, palestinian, spy, terrorism, thriller, war

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June 1982




I paused from digging for a gulp of air. It was dry and stale and a stranger to oxygen. The flame of the candle, giving light but devouring air, pale orange on its last desperate flicker, provided me with the company of shadows. I squatted and clenched my fists, straining to inhale. After eight uninterrupted hours of hoeing and picking, my hands had become claws, the skin cracked like old leather. I rubbed my burning eyes with the back of my hand and felt the energy drain from my body.

“Come on, Ismail,” I heard my friends urge from behind.


“You’re almost there. You can’t stop now. Soon you’ll be a


hero, for us and for all our families. Allah will be pleased.”


Their voices gave me a boost and my heart pounded with


adrenaline once more. I’d be their champion, perhaps even their leader, if I succeeded. A charge of renewed strength surged through me. I thrust the shovel upwards into the tunnel’s ceiling with all the might I had left. I scraped and dug and pulverised the earth, grunting like a wild dog.

Then, suddenly, a shaft of light pierced the darkness. It


beckoned like a prophet’s hand. I dug feverishly, kicking and punching the sand, oblivious to the rumbling and the cries of warning behind me. The ground above me opened up like in the folk tale my mother often read to me. A rush of fresh, life-giving air gushed into the tunnel. As I turned around in

triumph, awaiting my friends’ jubilant approach, expecting them to jump on top of me and smother me in squeezing embraces, like players of a football team after the winning goal had been scored, the earth shook briefly and I was alone.




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stewartronen wrote 688 days ago

Hi Linda, thank you for your backing and comments. Wow! I read the pitch of your book and it looks amazing! Many common denominators here indeed. Needless to say, I already love the setting and the plot. I'm not so active on Authonomy these days but I'm certainly going to endeavor to read your book and to be more present here.
Thank you again and lovely to 'meet' you.


Linda Horowitz wrote 688 days ago

...fascinating to find your book here Stewart; which contains several aspects of my own novel... Egypt, Bedouin and the Middle East in general... El Arish, Rafah; mystifying areas I'd like to explore..... your book is going on my shelf and hoping to meet you here, Best wishes, Linda Horowitz

Su Dan wrote 811 days ago

This is a well thought out, well written book. Effective and flowing narrative, descriptive, and well paced.
l will back...
read SEASONS...

Khan wrote 1817 days ago

How do you manage this?
Exotic, compassionate and quite competent narrative.

Ian Taylor wrote 1830 days ago

This is wonderfully original material, suggesting an intimate knowledge of its unusual subject,. Absorbing

AnnabelleP wrote 1834 days ago

Hi there,
I love the title of this book, it's what drew me to it and then I was sucked in by the pitch. This is a compelling read, deep and intriguing. I very much enjoyed your style of writing, it lends itself well to the subject, you definitely have a way with words. You have a strong narrative voice and your descriptions are vivid, giving me a real sense of place. Ismail is an endearing character, I feel for him from the beginning. I'm not going to nit-pick as there are others here who are better qualified to help you with the 'writery' bits and pieces. Sorry my comments are a bit late, Easter madness, already shelved!
(Look forward to your thoughts on Adelaide ;-))

Kimmy M. wrote 1834 days ago

I love this,

I like the way you tell the story and the expresion you use in it.
I think people need to see this side of the story and you give it to them in a great manner.

Wishing you all the best,
Shelved ;)

Bradley Wind wrote 1836 days ago

Lovely Stewart, so many visions to take comfort in here, so many sad ones as well. Really enjoyed the first 3 chapters...a quick read for me before putting my daughter down for the night I'm afraid...but I'll be back.

RachelMay wrote 1836 days ago

WOW! This story is one with such underlying currents of today's environment that in some ways it reminded me of another excellent book, The Kite Runner. Although your book is completely different the tone was there. And I felt a real empathy for Ismali and his family. As someone who's been to Israel and was raised Jewish this story has appeal from other angles as well. I think the only hang ups that i had were 1) your font. For some reason that font, whenever I see it makes me want to immediately stop reading. that's a personal thing and has nothing what so ever to do with your writing. The other is that you have some sentences that feel like they drag and I think that this editing trick that I learned may work wonders for you as it has for me.

Varying Sentence Length

Why is this important: Sentences that are all the same length tend to make the reader hear your story in monotone. By varying up line/sentence length you add rhythm and flow to your writing. To tell whether or not you have sentences the same length, print out the first page of your story, take a pen or pencil and at the start of every sentence draw a line through the words. When you get to a period end the line. At the next sentence do the same thing. Follow that same system through your first paragraph and subsequent paragraphs. If every line appears to be the same length. Cut some of your sentences down into short ones. Read the entire paragraph out loud to double check that you haven't taken anything out that's imperative or shortened a sentence where it should in fact be longer.

Anyway, I am shelving this because of it's powerful effect on me and because I really believe that this story should be published. If you edit, please shoot me a message so that i can return and reread your posted chapters.

I wish you the best with this and am sending you positive energy
Rachel May

Geveret wrote 1838 days ago

Hi Stewart, What a great angle for looking at what's going on in the Middle East! The voice is deceptively simple, never simplistic, and I love how you throw in the Arabic phrases, noting differences in dialect. A lovely dash of authenticity.

You're a precise, conscientious writer. I was hooked from start and shelved you during the first chapter. I was wondering if you considered ramping up Ismail's emotional responses. His life is horrid, and he' a brave, resourceful kid, but he's still a kid. He's at an age when kids believe the world revolves around them. I wonder if he should be afraid about what will happen to him. Would he think he made a mistake, and long to go home?

I was wondering too, about the aftermath of the explosion: The heat of the fire is melting plastic chairs, yet Ismail seems to be taking his time stocking up. Would he be at least somewhat concerned that he'll be roasted alive if he doesn't get a move on? Or has he become accustomed to death?

Just suggestions from a YA writer who probably won't stop tweaking her own story to ramp up her own MC's emotions. ;-) You know how your story will play out, so you're the one who knows what and what not to say so early on. I'd love to read more.


Lisa-Marya wrote 1840 days ago

Stewart - I've really enjoyed letting these chapters draw me into Ismail's world. Your descriptions feel authentic and the extreme economy in telling about the tunnel tragedy is powerful and moving. Because visual impact is important the format urgently needs attention. Two details: 'dilapidated' & 'Ashaq and I'.
The synopsis promises a good story and the start certainly has potential.

bluestocking wrote 1843 days ago

Heartbreaking. What a sad story. The simplicity is deceptive--so much has been said and described, and the handling of emotion is very deft, matter of fact--it could so easily become maudlin but there isn't a hint of sentimentality. Really it's just scary ... I was a nervous wreck the whole time. I do like it very much and I am very happy to back this. Westerners are very eager I think to learn more about Arab life, customs, politics, everything you're discussing here, so I believe you have a really good shot at publication. Please message me if/when you post more.

If I were to offer a suggestion ... I have two, maybe. One is that there aren't many details about life at home before the tunnel collapses; I think I would like to know just a little more about his sisters, their schooling (I mean, why *isn't* he in school if he's the son? I didn't quite understand this, in an Arab family (my ex is Lebanese so I know just a little about that culture.) The other is (this may be just me not understanding it clearly) when he emerges from the collapsed tunnel, there's no one waiting there, though they'd received the coded messages telling them the coast was clear. Some clarification on this point would be helpful. Anyway, that is it from me. Best of luck with this riveting, harrowing tale--Maria.

Dania wrote 1843 days ago

Hi Stewart. Well researched and has some great insights. I've never been to Gaza but your descriptions sound very genuine, and definitely so for Cairo. Noticed one thing with the dialect: he should say "Bardan wa Gaan". Curious to know what happens next. It's on my shelf

Sandrine wrote 1844 days ago

Stewart, I've only skimmed so far, but you certainly do a great job in chapter one of capturing a young voice - something about the sentence structure is just right - I think it's the way you often have one subclause too many - which sounds like an 11 year-old speaking too quickly because he can't keep up with his thoughts.

Heidi Mannan wrote 1844 days ago

Hi Stewart, I really like this a lot. I loved your pitch; and you have a real talent for drawing a person into your world. To me the places you write about are exotic and fascinating. You story is gripping. What more could one ask for? It's going on my shelf.

ADO wrote 1847 days ago

Hi Stewart, the opening chapters of Under Philadelphi Road have all the makings of a very interesting and engaging novel. The character of Ismail is quickly established and the tunnel collapse in the prologue provides a very tense and gripping start. Your descriptions of Gaza life had authenticity and were well written and, although set in 1982, your story obviously still has huge contemporary resonance and I found it a very interesting read. With many thanks, Andrew (author of BIG FISH)

Joanna Stephen-Ward wrote 1847 days ago


This looks interesting. I'm in my luch break so haven't much time, but will watchlist this and read more tonight.


JOSEPH CANNING wrote 1847 days ago

Stewart – I like this story, Under Philadelphi Road, very much. I read all six chapters and I found it very interesting. It introduces me to a different world – boys in Gaza tunnelling into Egypt to smuggle back goods. I could easily imagine the boys doing that. Your descriptions are very good. The opening chapter with the football bit is very good indeed. With images culled from the television, I could easily picture it all from your writing – the broken houses and the potholed earth and sandy wastes and kids kicking a ball about. Great.
The mother and the rest of the family are all slotted in easily and come across as authentic cameos, if I may call themn that. You also use phrases which add to the authenticity (though some I don’t know the meaning of). On the bookstall pick-up test, yes, I would definitely buy this to read simply because it is different in its setting and I like that very fact. It is also about a boy having an adventure, as far as I read from the chapters posted. It is interesting to read about other people’s lives and Ismail’s world is well described. I would certainly want to find out what happens to him. So it passes that test.
I have no fault with your writing style – in fact, it is very good in places – with some good descriptive stuff … ‘her eyes mirrors of panic’ … plus the whole description of the bomb blast. Great.
I like the book, I would buy it to read, but there are personal reservations, if you will allow me … the rape scene is too much of a ‘steal’ from Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner,’ in my humble view. And Ismail’s reaction is bewildering -- ‘privileged’? I would almost say that reaction is unnatural, even for an eleven-year-old (note hyphens), but then I never have been b….. d! My view, for what it is worth, is that it would be better to insert something else there, an argument between the older boy Anwar and Ismail, say, perhaps just because he has overheard him cursing the ‘whore’ not hoar (frost).
You have already set up Anwar as the gang leader and given an example of his nastiness with the kitten incident and the dogs. I don’t think you need the rape unless it plays a vital part in your story. I think it sullies Ismail’s charm and distances us from him a bit. My opinion.
My over-all feeling is that you have a good story, which is well written and interesting because I have not read anything like it since Louis Bernieres’s ‘Birds Without Wings’ and ‘The Kite Runner,’ though this is different, I hasten to add. But there are little bits that need developing and explaining more …like Kasim’s death. It is glossed over too quickly --- there would have to be some sort of outcry at it, some discussion, some reaction from the boys and the people, of course.
Also, later we suddenly find Ismail is on a bus to Ismailia – could not the reason he got on the bus be developed into a small dramatic section on its own, half a chapter perhaps after the blast when he is on the beach, a thousand words perhaps? You tell us later, but for continuity purposes would it not be better moved forward in the narrative straight after the sale to the beach man? It would also add to the drama and tell us why the boy is heading for Cairo. Also, I feel an explanation is required when he is asked to play the rebabah by the café owner…has he played one a bit already? His father’s? Music skill does not come easily. (If I missed this point, I apologise).
Simply as a point to raise with you: do you need the prologue at all. Might not the description be better included in the straight narrativeof the tunnelling?
Other issues are minor – jeopardy … should be ‘its’ in the Prologue … the Prophet (capital P) … Persian rug …ten-metre mine shaft …spit the farthest (distance) … smoky … she wept…also a ‘car’ (a dusty Mazda pick-up) pulled up …’temper hiding, the one….judge?’ (one sentence). After all that, I’m backing you because I think the book could well interest a publisher simply because it is different. – JOE CANNING

Marcant wrote 1849 days ago

Hi Stewart,
Your pitch alone has taken hold of my entire being and I put Under Philadelphi Road immediately on my shelf.
The prologue is gripping, intriguing. Your writing is beautifully paced, penetrating and elegant, with such perfect imagery and without a superfluous word. I could feel the pain and exhaustion in Ismail's body and it felt like I was in the tunnel. And this is only the beginning. I cannot put it down. And what appears to be even more remarkable literary skill on your part is that you write in the first person as a Palestinian boy when you yourself, according to your bio, are a South African Jew. This is bestseller potential and I can't wait to read on! Brilliant and good luck!