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The fifth novel, and first book in nine years, from the author of Bodkin (1968) and Phantoms (1970) is a flawed and intermittently frustrating but ultimately haunting study of (in one of its characters’ words) “how delicate and complicated is the life of human relations.” It’s a set of stories within stories, beginning in 1978 when Barton Midwood, a writer and translator, meets, in a Brooklyn park, a striking brother and sister, Anchel and Surah Brody, thus initiating a friendship that lasts until, three years later, Surah, who only briefly survives her brother’s death, sends their author friend a box of miscellaneous papers. From these, Midwood pieces together a tangled story of their family’s violent Austrian past and of the siblings’ incestuous love, and is drawn into another correspondence—first, with their son Lo Yadua, a respected soldier and citizen of an Israeli kibbutz; then, following his death, with his wife Ilana, a psychologist, and, later, with their daughter Leah. Their several stories tell of the unhappy marriage of the siblings’ mother Blima, the “sacrifice” claimed by Surah, who sent her illegitimate son to Israel (—to promote the cause of Zion,— she would always insist), and the torment endured by the familyless Lo Yadua, who, Ilana eventually realizes, had ever since childhood —had in him the inclination to step in front of a bullet.— This rigorously understated novel sags awkwardly during Ilana’s lengthy account of Anchel’s and Surah’s 1956 visit to the kibbutz—but it gains impressive strength from Midwood’s probing analysis of “his” characters’ inability to acknowledge the truth about themselves (a fascinating subplot details the refusal of Frieda Levi, Lo Yadua’s surrogate mother, to admit that her murdered son is in fact dead). And Midwood ends with an intricate, and very moving, explanation of how all their stories (including his) are “connected.” A richly imagined, if oddly muted, story--and more than reason enough to renew acquaintance with an unjustly neglected novelist.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-57962-008-6
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998