None of the knishkabibble comic touches of Mr. Bermant's more recent novels, and much more of the seriousness with which he -- as a social historian -- annotated the entire Cousinhood of the Anglo-Jewish gentry here living in Hampstead Heath, one step up from Golders Green -- namely halfway the between integration or extinction. All of this book is framed by two occasions -- a shiva and a seder -- the former observing, at her insistence, the death of Tanya Coggan and attended by brothers, a sister, and a son -- the now American James who has been teaching in California. It is a large, affectionate, querulous family, representing the ""gilded ghetto"" and coming originally from St. Petersburg (one member with jewels sewn in a truss). James is interested in retracing its history but particularly in finding out more about his father who died suddenly (where? how?)when he was a small boy -- the father who is the subject of mixed memories, whether those of his recently deceased wife Tanya (""a fountain trapped in ice"") or his friends, or of course the family. However the point that Bermant is making -- with such consistency and fidelity -- is that one is never Jewish ""after a fashion""; a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, whether it's the way he plays cards or worries about his health; the past exerts itself and ultimately ""Religion is creeping back into your miserable tittle soul. . . they've circumcised your psyche. You've been claimed."" Perhaps too exegetical for your hurried reader -- but a novel with substance and conviction -- of how many can that be said?