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The author is of a fifth generation born in Jerusalem, and although like Amos Oz and others he is deeply responsive to the unique ambiance of the old city, rich in ghosts and cultural essences, his is an older and more seasoned outlook -- and these stories range in time from the British occupation to the present. Shahar presents an often interrelated, warmly immediate group of characters and situations: uncles and small boys, feuding sisters, mothers and sons, shopkeepers, cafe originals, flights of nuns and phalanxes of British, cool observers and dreamers ""who stumble. . . get lost."" But the author plays with time, distance and perspective like a sand devil, blurring ""the boundaries between what comes from outside and what exists within."" Often fantasies and real events mix the solemn and ridiculous. A boyhood revelation of spirit and body as separate entities (via a yawning prostitute) becomes entangled in an adult ""Christian"" dream about a potent soul inflicting evil and the seeker -- both hopeful and amused -- visits a grossly incompetent hairy-legged medium. In another story of personal mythology, a fierce verbal battle between a boy and his blind grandmother fixes the experience forever within images of imprisoned light -- as the boy consolidates his rage before a flickering stove in a dark room. Happy Uncle Kalman meditates on nothingness and finds it greater than God; elegant Uncle Zemach finds a new definition of sin in a chance release from a minor transgression. A young man's attempt to please two unloving women results in inexplicable rumblings of laughter within, which once escaped, effects his own salvation. And there is the dying philosopher who knows that God is very small and growing smaller. Fanciful agile tales which reflect the ""narrow and distant"" mysteries of Jerusalem and man himself.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1974
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin