A wonderful short novel from the increasingly acclaimed Israeli author. This time, Oz (Don't Call It Night, 1996, etc.) offers the first-person narrative of an imaginative and intelligent 12-year- old boy nicknamed Proffy (short for ``Professor''), living just outside Jerusalem in 1947, the final year of the British ``mandate'' (occupation). Determined to grow up to fight for his people's independence, Proffy joins two comrades in forming a make- believe underground resistance movement he calls FOD (``Freedom or Death''). He imagines himself a ``panther in the basement,'' silently crouching and biding his time awaiting an opportunity to ``pounce on'' the hated British. But while out one night beyond curfew, Proffy is apprehended by the unprepossessing Sergeant Dunlop, a clumsy British policeman who turns out to be sympathetic toward Jews and deeply enamored of their culture. He and Proffy meet secretly in a local cafe, exchanging Hebrew and English lessons, and bringing Proffy to a paradoxical reevaluation of himself as ``a young Hebrew Underground fighter, whose life is devoted to driving out the foreign oppressor, but whose soul is bound up with his. . . .'' This amazingly compact novel features several vivid supporting characters (including Proffy's severe scholarly father and forthright mother, his judgmental friends Ben Hur and Chita, and Ben Hur's grownup sister Yardena, a woman wise beyond her years) and such marvelous set-pieces as Proffy's long rhapsodic description of the books in his father's study, and a moving climactic moment of understanding between father and son on the eve of the formation of the state of Israel. Oz expertly blends together an ingenious allegory of the Israeli resistance movement, a shimmering portrait of life in postwar Jerusalem and environs, and an unforgettable characterization of its sentient young hero- -who's thoroughly believable both as a confused preadolescent and as the mature writer looking backward on his, and his country's, youth from the vantage point of middle age. Another triumph, and further evidence of Oz's increasing claim to serious Nobel Prize consideration.