Something new from the acclaimed Israeli author of, most recently, The Book of Intimate Grammar (1994): an Alice-in-Wonderland--like adventure tale expressing a 13-year-old boy's family confusions, fears, and fantasies. The story begins as motherless Amnon ""Nonny"" Feuerberg sits aboard a train that will take him from his home in Jerusalem to Haifa for an extended visit with his uncle, a ""distinguished educator"" and author. Nonny's widowed father, a police detective, wants some time alone with his fretful mistress (and secretary) Gagi--who, Nonny believes, is preparing to dump her undemonstrative and indifferent lover. The overimaginative boy rehearses in his mind conversations he's sure they must be having--and shortly experiences outrageous occurrences that, we gradually realize, are fantasized extensions of things he has half-heard and half-understood. For example, Nonny observes an eerie exchange of identities between a uniformed policeman and the criminal handcuffed to him, then is taken in tow (if not ""kidnapped"") by Felix Glick, a 70ish dandy who identifies himself as a master criminal, brings his young companion to the home of famous actress Lola Ciperola (who, not at all coincidentally, is Gabi's idol), and eventually reveals his own relationship to Nonny's heritage. These picaresque doings are frequently interrupted by Nonny's recall of earlier escapades (such as the time when his dream of becoming ""the first Israeli matador"" led to an embarrassing assault on a neighbor's cow). In piecemeal fashion, this descent into memories and dreams clarifies Nonny's inchoate knowledge of his long-dead beautiful mother: specifically, her tainted past and how it has intensified his desperate need to know who he is (""I was the son of a policeman and a criminal,"" he painfully concludes). Not nearly as much fun as it sounds. Grossman's fifth novel is so arch and opaque that it fails to draw the reader in. By the time we understand the motives behind Nonny's wild inventions, we've stopped caring about him.