Three long interrelated stories set in one neighborhood of northwestern Jerusalem during the last months before Israel's birth. Oz is a wise writer who keeps his lyrical laces, so to speak, loose. Young boys narrate the first two stories: Hillel, a quiet, chubby boy whose parents are sexually and temperamentally mismatched; and Uri, a resolute but in-drawn kid who dreams of the annihilation of Israel's enemies. Out of these two, Oz extracts an atmosphere of almost milky apprehension, of dailyness hushed by the expectation of violence: British soldiers making house searches; Uri's meek printer-father hiding ""Mr. Levi,"" the Underground leader, in his printshop; the storage of explosives. The last story, ""Longing,"" narrated by a young dying doctor in the form of letters to his psychologist-girlfriend (who has left the uncertainty of late-Mandate Palestine for secure New York), is less impressionistic and fractured than the rest; over the tense and embryonic activity of the city, these letters cast a sort of foreshortened dusk, a pessimism. The pall doesn't fully satisfy, though, as much as we understand the structural need for it. But Oz, at his most mosaic and oblique, is a writer of stunning effects and often great power, and these stories enhance his reputation.