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 The relation of man to God and the meaning of life are merely the starting points for this extraordinarily ambitious novel of ideas by the celebrated Dutch author of such dense and rewarding fictions as The Assault (1985) and Last Call (1990). The story begins in heaven, with a conversation between two angels, one of whom has been assigned to contrive the appropriate ancestry and eventual birth of a human intelligence gifted enough to locate the (long hidden) stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments given to the biblical Moses, and then return them to heaven. Thus will God's covenant with man be invalidated (the order is given because the Deity is offended by man's loss of faith as a consequence of his commitment to scientific investigation now, culminating in DNA research that may presage humanity's discovery of the secret of creation). Subsequently, interpolated ``intermezzos'' in which the heavenly host comment on the progress of their scheme are juxtaposed against the novel's main narrative, which portrays the unlikely friendship between astronomer Max Delius and the linguist (and political activist) Onno Quist; their rivalry for the love of the beautiful cellist Ada Brons; the accident that precedes the delivery of Ada's baby, ostensibly the progeny of her husband Onno--but, just possibly, Max's; and the development of that child, Quinten, a precocious and unnaturally beautiful youth who is drawn to Venice, then Rome, for the surprising resolution of the quest for which he has been celestially destined. This masterly syntheses of idea and story- -reminiscent of similarly gargantuan novels by GÅnter Grass and Michel Tournier--makes complex concepts from mathematics, architecture, physics, astronomy, and theology perfectly comprehensible and dramatic, all the while immersing readers in a fast-paced narrative peopled with several vivid and appealing characters. Mulisch's bid for a masterpiece works commandingly, on every level. Could be one of the best novels of the last 20 years.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-85668-1
Page count: 752pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1996


FictionSIEGFRIED by Harry Mulisch
by Harry Mulisch
FictionTHE PROCEDURE by Harry Mulisch
by Harry Mulisch