A slyly satiric walking tour through the closing years of Israel's first half-century—as refracted through the mind of an ineffectual, quirky dreamer constitutionally beset by the most mundane details of his daily routine. Efraim Nisan is a middle-aged functionary who nightly records the jarring, revelatory dreams that alternate with a waking life scarcely less dreamlike in its episodic inconclusiveness. Fima has disappointed his father Baruch Nomberg, a right-wing cosmetics manufacturer, by settling for a job as receptionist at a gynecological clinic, and disappointed his ex-wife Yael Levin, an aeronautical researcher, by letting her walk away from their marriage and into the arms of supercilious American Ted Tobias. Fima keeps disappointing himself too on a daily basis. Fascinated by charismatic Uri Gefen, he settles for sleeping with his wife, Nina, who ends each dutiful bout of lovemaking by scrubbing herself, then scrubbing the toilet and sink as well. Drawn to clinic patient Annette Tadmor, he forces himself to listen over coffee and vodka to her litany of marital complaints, only to find that he's equally chagrined whether or not they end up in bed. Fima can't even kill a cockroach without being forestalled by its reflection of the vilified Jewish people. Drifting through the streets of Jerusalem convening his own imaginary cabinet meetings to solve the nation's political and moral problems, he's most satisfied only when he's playing with Dimi Tobias, Yael's ten-year-old son. All Fima's dissatisfied longings come to a head in a magical, climactic epiphany on a Friday afternoon ramble through Jerusalem and its sequel, which shows Fima finally coming to terms with his status as a present-day Wandering Jew. Deeply, sweetly comic in the manner of Gogol. Essayist and novelist Oz (To Know a Woman, 1991, etc.) has never focused such large matters so adroitly on such a delicate fulcrum—or created a more endearing hero.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-15-189851-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1993

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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