MATCHES by Alan Kaufman

MATCHES

KIRKUS REVIEW

The experiences of an American Jew fighting as a reservist with the Israeli Defense Forces.

The matches of the title are soldiers, in IDF lingo. For his first novel, Kaufman (Jew Boy, memoir) has drawn on his own tours of duty with the IDF. His protagonist, Nathan Falk, is a twenty-something New York Jew with Israeli citizenship who has completed two years of regular service and now serves at least a month each year in the reserves, mostly in the Gaza Strip or on the Israeli/Egyptian border. He details a scary encounter with an ultra-orthodox settler who predicts an eventual war between the Jews; a house-to-house search in which Falk makes an important arrest; the destruction of a house owned by the parents of a terrorist; and the nighttime killing of desert infiltrators, thanks to the fine work of Bachshi, the IDF’s top Bedouin tracker. Kaufman’s passages on Bedouin culture are the most interesting, even if Bachshi sounds like the generic Voice of the Desert. Meanwhile, what is Falk up to the rest of the year? Hard to say. He lives alone in a Jerusalem apartment and balls Maya, wife of his best friend Dotan, off fighting in Lebanon (Falk never claimed to be nice). All three are part of a “bohemian cultural elite,” but we don’t know how Falk supports himself. At one point he has a crisis of conscience and decides “ I didn’t want to hurt (Arabs) anymore in order to survive;” he rushes to Jerusalem to be comforted by Maya, who then disappears from the story, along with the guilty conscience. The chronology is hard to follow, and by the final third, which consists of snapshots of reservists dealing with Palestinian civilians, “all guilty until proven innocent,” all novelistic coherence has evaporated.

This is a sloppily assembled work. What Kaufman does best is convey the brittle camaraderie of the reservists; a story collection or another memoir might have served his purposes better.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 2005
ISBN: 0-316-10664-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Back Bay/Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2005




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