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 A debut novel from the American co-founder of Granta that, appropriating its title from the work by the great Talmudic scholar Maimonides, provides an ingenious if metaphorical twist to the events of 1492. When a strike delays their flight out of Mariposa, Spain, two women--Holland, an English filmmaker; and Hanni, an aging American searching for her family's treasured ``Letters from Esau,'' as well as for a son she hasn't seen since his birth in war-torn Berlin- -find they have the same travel agent, Ben. Ben is the author of a travel book called A Guide for the Perplexed, which offers ``no itineraries, no routes touristique'' but only help for those who no longer know where or how to go. In a series of set pieces, the narrative--interspersed with letters, historical lore, excerpts from the guide--moves back and forth from the 15th century to the present, from Inca kingdoms to Berlin, as the women while away the wait for the delayed flight. They wander from a bordello bar to an adult-movie house, from the home of the mysterious violinist Sandor to the richly symbolic Cave of Esau. On these wanderings, lugging a mysterious trunk Ben has entrusted to Hanni, the two women meet a host of characters, including Holland's long-lost daughter Isabella; a Peruvian descendant of Maimonides; and a British rock band. Connections and coincidences multiply as life histories are told, and family legends of famous Jewish ancestors are recalled. In a climatic scene in the Cave of Esau, from which Esau had sailed with Columbus to found a Jewish nation in the Americas, all is made clear. Destinies are linked, and the real purpose of the centuries of wanderings by Hanni's ancestors is revealed: ``Esau said it best--we are all Jews. Our survival is in our motion.'' Conceptually quite brilliant--but with too many tricks, too many mirrors, and too little really at the center of it. Promising but flawed.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40893-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992