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 Two brothers--one a family therapist (Howard), the other head of the Center for Jewish Renewal in Philadelphia and author of These Holy Sparks, 1983, etc. (Arthur)--come to terms with their past and present relationship. Despite a loving mother's constant plea to ``be close to your brother above all!,'' the Waskows have felt overriding anger and resentment toward each other throughout most of their lives. The early chapters here--told in the authors' alternating voices- -reconstruct childhood memories. While Howard devotes his boyhood Saturdays to playing sports, Arthur, always the outsider, passes his at the local library, ``disconnected from other people''; also painstakingly recalled are the boys' vibrant mother, Honey--who spends much of their youth fighting tuberculosis--and their infrequent trips to the local Orthodox synagogue. We're offered intimate, poignant glimpses of family tragedies--ranging from life- threatening illnesses to a suicide--but there's an inexplicable void regarding the brothers' wives, divorces, and children. At the nadir of their relationship, Howard once retaliates with, ``I really may have to kill you some day after all.'' But only a few years later, at midlife, the Waskows' relationship turns on the family's wrenching decision not to prolong Honey's life on a respirator--a crisis that forges a new bond between the brothers. Particularly interesting here are the Waskows' divergent responses to Judaism. Neither brother seems to have come to terms with the other's approach: To Howard, Judaism is an avoidable burden; to Arthur, it's a life-affirming force. When Howard remarries, the only Jewish reference at his wedding is a prayer devised by Arthur in their mother's memory. Arthur suggests that Howard's Judaism is limited to nostalgia, but Howard protests that his wedding banquet is richly Jewish, ``overspilled with whitefish, chopped liver...knishes, kishke, and challah.'' To the now mature Arthur, a leading figure in American Jewish renewal, this response is theologically bankrupt but no longer a personal insult. Despite enduring differences, the Waskows offer an appealing human drama in writing themselves back to fraternity.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-933997-9
Page count: 250pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993