by Carl Friedman ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 29, 1998
By the Dutch author of Nightfather (1994) and The Shovel and the Loom (1996), three long stories that explore the Jewish experience and the legacy of the Holocaust. The central and longest tale, ""Holy Fire,"" draws an extended contrast between the directions followed by two of its characters. One is the story's narrator, a Dutch woman journalist whose independent life estranges her from her father, an inflexible Orthodox Jew. The other is Hans Levie, the son of the narrator's close friends, whose fanatical pro-Zionism drives him to terrorize his bewildered parents, harass their friends and neighbors, and emigrate to Jerusalem, where he murders a Palestinian youth. Though the story is attenuated and discursive, Friedman portrays its several characters' argumentative dispositions quite credibly, and movingly renders its narrator's stubborn determination ""to fulfill the holiest of all Jewish commandments, the commandment to keep on learning."" The concluding piece (""Bette"") describes with skillfully restrained emotion the ordeal of a grown daughter watching the slow death from cancer of her beloved mother, a literate and sentient woman who had survived a concentration camp and the death of her permanently traumatized husband. It's a beautiful portrayal of the daughter's sorrow and confusion juxtaposed with her mother's funny, querulous, and withal loving embrace of the withered world she cannot bring herself to renounce--reminiscent, in its incantatory, grieving rhythms (""Let her be as bitter as gall, let her rattle her chains, let her wrestle with the Angel""), of Tillie Olsen's ""Tell Me a Riddle."" Even finer is the parable-like title story, which recounts the last days of Gershom Katz, a centenarian widower who is exploited by the family who shelter him but then is purified when his affection for a donkey (as mistreated as he) leads to a hallucination that is simultaneously erotic grasp, exaltation, and annunciation. The result is a marvelous amalgam of realism, folktale, and fantasy. Superlative work from one of the best newer writers on the international scene.
Pub Date: Oct. 29, 1998
Page Count: 176
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998
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