A strenuously talky chronicle of a transcontinental, religious search brightened by sprinklings of humor, detailed African settings, and some sunbaked theological speculations. Here, a ``soft'' yeshiva student follows his scatty father into the desert- -and trouble—but finds some spiritual stability. Murray Orloff is the son of Charlie, who in middle-age opted for Orthodox Judaism—feeling, pragmatically, that discipline was a good thing—and eventually led his family to Israel. But Charlie is burdened with guilt about dumping brother Daniel from the family business way back in Massachusetts; and Daniel, meanwhile, divorces his wife and is now—horrors!—in Africa working as a handyman for a Baptist mission. So Charlie is off on another of his frantic quests—this time to find Daniel. Son Murray goes along. After miseries and mishaps, however, he gives up and goes off with the massive Harlan Fitzwater—a ``private dick'' working for the Nigerian government—leaving Charlie but intending to return. The detective (``Satan''), though, leads Murray to the sensual life and the ``quicksand of humanism, whose banner of tolerance had atrophied my soul.'' Murray will redeem himself, escape death twice, find Daniel (and, alas, locate Charlie for the last time), debate a Baptist minister, and bring Daniel back to the faith and Israel. For the general reader, a bit heavy on the parochial pedal, and there are times when one wishes Murray would shut up and smell the blooms of Africa. Still, for a first, hortatory novel, this has an appealing narrative bounce.
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