THE SMILE OF THE LAMB by David Grossman

THE SMILE OF THE LAMB

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KIRKUS REVIEW

After the triumph of his novel See Under: Love (1988) and the best-selling The Yellow Wind (nonfiction about the Israeli/Palestinian situation), Grossman's first novel, originally published in Hebrew in 1983, is a cleareyed account of an Israeli soldier given to mysticism who is serving on the occupied West Bank. Uri, ""like one of those holy fools, the playthings of a complacent world,"" becomes quickly involved with Khilmi, an Arab storyteller, ""a fictional inventor of fictions."" Meanwhile, Uri's wife Shosh, working at a juvenile psychiatric institution as the ""most devoted pupil"" of Victor Frankl's theories, has an affair with Katzman, who is Uri's cynical commander. She looks to him as ""the person who could translate me into a foreign language,"" while Uri is ""held captive in the imagination of a crazy old Arab"" (Khilmi) who sees Uri as his heir. Grossman overlays the narrative with a metafictional aura and multiple points of view to dramatize Jewish guilt as the Israelis subjugate the Arabs, causing, in Grossman's words, ""the erosion of their own values."" The expected complications develop--jealousy, Arab/Israeli conflict--as Katzman comes up against a possible terrorist ring, Shosh fails to save an afflicted child, and Uri, now the storyteller, tries ""to weave us all together and bring our many virtues to light."" Some murky philosophizing and first-novel literariness are mostly subsumed in the larger structure, which ends in near-apocalypse: Katzman is killed, Khilmi arrested, Uri able to continue only because he remembers Shosh's belief that we can go on living because ""the enzymes of the mind are amazingly strong, strong enough to decompose anything."" Not the equal of See Under: Love, but, ironically, a promising book whose promise has already been realized in the later novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux