MR. MANI by A.B. Yehoshua


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 A self-consciously experimental novel from Israeli writer Yehoshua (Five Seasons, A Late Divorce, etc.) in which a family's history is told backwards in one-sided conversations. There are five conversations, each accompanied by a brief foreword and afterword--sort of program notes--that explicate as well as wrap up the story. The conversations themselves, with the exception of the final one, are those of strangers who recall their subsequently significant interventions in the history of the Mani family, currently of Jerusalem but once residents of Greece. Beginning in present-day Israel, Hagar Shiloh, back on the kibbutz where she was reared, tells her mother how she saved Mr. Mani, the father of her lover, from committing suicide. Conversation number two, between a German soldier and his grandmother, takes place on Crete during WW II and accounts for Mr. Mani's childhood escape from the Germans. The third conversation (which has appeared in The New Yorker) details the reprieve that British authorities devise in WW I for the then-current Mr. Mani, on trial for treason. And so genealogy retreats through conversations with a Polish doctor, whose sister's departure from Jerusalem drove Moshe Mani to suicide in 1899, and ends as Avraham Mani, in Athens, confesses in 1848 to his aged rabbi that he has impregnated his widowed daughter-in-law so that the family would continue. Not as dryly schematic as Martin Amis's Time's Arrow, but the structure, however innovative and brilliantly executed, is constraining; and retrohistory too much resembles all those confusing biblical lists of A's begetting B's. Still, an interesting, and certainly challenging, read.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-385-26792-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1992


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