An agreeably melodramatic sixth novel from the prizewinning author (Be My Knife, 2001, etc.).
Here, two Israeli teenagers undertake intersecting perilous quests. When Assaf, who’s 16 and enduring a demeaning summertime job at Jerusalem’s City Hall, is ordered to find (and fine) the owner of an obstreperous stray dog, he stumbles into a world reshaped by terrorist attacks, rampant criminality, and confused loyalties. Discovering that the person he seeks is a runaway girl (also 16) named Tamar, Assaf (and the dog, Dinka) prowl Jerusalem’s darkest corners, receiving leading information from Theodora, an aged Greek nun who hasn’t left her apartment in 50 years, yet seems to have been a de facto fairy godmother to vagabond youths and street people. Meanwhile, Grossman constructs a parallel narrative (beginning earlier than do Assaf’s adventures) of Tamar’s entry into a gang of street performers masterminded by criminal boss Pesach (whose other minions pick the pockets of his performers’ audiences). We learn that Tamar, a precociously gifted singer, is seeking her brother Shai, a heroin addict in thrall to Pesach. The two narratives move swiftly, eventually joining for a prolonged climax, during which Tamar and Assaf see Shai through a grueling withdrawal, and Assaf understands the necessity and comfort of having “someone to run with” in such embattled times. This is a consistently absorbing tale, even when much of it strains credibility. Neither Theodora nor Pesach, for example, is, strictly speaking, a believable character. But we soon see that she is Grossman’s version of Great Expectations’s immortal recluse Miss Havisham—and that he is another version of Oliver Twist’s enduringly creepy Fagin. The Dickensian provenance and romantic texture here—and the hyperbole with which its young protagonists’ exploits are imbued—in fact very effectively dramatize the experience of living in a volatile society and the resources required for survival therein.
Grossman’s most entertaining book yet.