Gad and Amalia, adult brother and sister, have been entrusted by their dead Uncle Arieih to maintain the cemetery of the martyrs high up on a Ruthenian mountain, far from the populated towns of the plain beneath. The physical isolation and lack of human contact work in them to the point of alcoholism and family incest--but these come less as a torture of remorse than as sins that at least have some juice in them, something to sustain the couple's arid, thankless lives. Both Gad and Amalia nevertheless are racked with guilt over their lust, possessiveness, and, in Gad's case, inability to pray: to hold up the spiritual side of his bargain with the haunting place he so bitterly and hopelessly tries to keep sacrosanct. Written in the dry-bones allegorical style of Appelfeld's recent The Healer (1990), the novel has great patches of repetitive longueur and ends wobblingly--with typhus up from the valley unblocking the narrative dead-end of these two mostly frozen characters. Yet Appelfeld, as the most concentrated Hebrew allegorist since Agnon, needs to work this slowly: his story is a synoptic squint at the whole course of Jewish suffering; the mountain graveyard often seems like the state of Israel; and the loggerheads and small conciliations of Gad and Amalia present an aspect of awe-under-duress that doesn't let them be as particular and monstrous as the characters fear. Powerful--if hardly pleasant or shapely.