Unimpressive, gee-whiz fare.

THE SACRED BONES

Brigands in the employ of the Vatican swipe a fancy stone box from a secret chamber under the holiest and most fought-over spot in Jerusalem. Guess whose 2,000-year-old bones are in the box?

There is, apparently, no end to the demand for tales of treachery and centuries-long deceit on the part of the Catholic Church, where there is, it seems, nothing going on these days but treachery and, yes, deceit. Debut novelist Byrnes’s entry pits Vatican heavies against relatively noble Muslims and the usual unscrupulous but dazzlingly effective Jews, when mercenaries hired by the Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Santelli, use a hijacked Israeli army helicopter to spirit away the most elaborate of nine ossuaries hidden centuries ago by the Knights Templar just prior to their elimination by the French King and his evil papal ally. Cardinal Santelli has appointed Father Donovan, the Vatican librarian, to see whose bones are in the box, and Donovan has in turn employed Charlotte Hennessy, a beautiful American scientist secretly dying of bone cancer, and Giovanni Bersei, an Italian married to Italy’s only Bad Cook, to do the scientific testing. As the scientists run their tests in Rome, back in the Holy Land the Muslims and Jews point fingers, knives and guns at each other over the loss of the box, and stumble over each other trying to find who took it. Graham Barton, a scholar hired by the Israelis to identify the remaining evidence in the secret chamber, is the only religiously neutral player. He’s quick to identify the remains as belonging to the family of Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy Jew who offered his own tomb as a burial site for Jesus after the crucifixion. In Vatican City, the scientists use powerful software to reconstruct the body that went with the bones. Gee! He’s extremely good-looking. And buff. Holy cow.

Unimpressive, gee-whiz fare.

Pub Date: March 13, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-114607-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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Constructed with delicacy, lyricism, and care, Hertmans’ novel still feels occasionally static.

THE CONVERT

A Christian woman and a Jewish man fall in love in medieval France.

In 1088, a Christian girl of Norman descent falls in love with the son of a rabbi. They run away together, to disastrous effect: Her father sends knights after them, and though they flee to a small southern village where they spend a few happy years, their budding family is soon decimated by a violent wave of First Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem. The girl, whose name becomes Hamoutal when she converts to Judaism, winds up roaming the world. Hertmans’ (War and Turpentine, 2016, etc.) latest novel is based on a true story: The Cairo Genizah, a trove of medieval manuscripts preserved in an Egyptian synagogue, contained an account of Hamoutal’s plight. Hamoutal makes up about half of Hertmans’ novel; the other half is consumed by Hertmans’ own interest in her story. Whenever he can, he follows her journey: from Rouen, where she grew up, to Monieux, where she and David Todros—her Jewish husband—made a brief life for themselves, and all the way to Cairo, and back. “Knowing her life story and its tragic end,” Hertmans writes, “I wish I could warn her of what lies ahead.” The book has a quiet intimacy to it, and in his descriptions of landscape and travel, Hertmans’ prose is frequently lovely. In Narbonne, where David’s family lived, Hertmans describes “the cool of the paving stones in the late morning, the sound of doves’ wings flapping in the immaculate air.” But despite the drama of Hamoutal’s story, there is a static quality to the book, particularly in the sections where Hertmans describes his own travels. It’s an odd contradiction: Hertmans himself moves quickly through the world, but his book doesn’t quite move quickly enough.

Constructed with delicacy, lyricism, and care, Hertmans’ novel still feels occasionally static.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4708-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Nevo is a funny, engaging writer, but his new book settles for cleverness without reaching for something more genuinely...

THREE FLOORS UP

Three residents of an Israeli apartment building narrate their worries and woes.

Nevo (Neuland, 2014, etc.) is a bestselling Israeli author, and his most recent book to be translated into English makes it easy to understand why. His writing is compelling—actually, it’s compulsively readable, as the cliché goes. This novel takes place in a suburb outside Tel Aviv, an area one character labels “bourgeoisville.” It is split along three narrative lines, each corresponding to a character who lives on one of three floors in the same apartment building. On the first floor, there is Arnon, a father who grows obsessed by the idea that his young daughter may have been molested. On the second floor is Hani, a mother and a wife whose husband is always away on business. Devora, a retired judge, lives on the third floor; her husband has died, her son is estranged, and she must build a new life for herself. Nevo uses Devora to remind us, not so subtly, that these three characters match up rather neatly to Freud’s model of consciousness: Nevo has given us the id, the ego, and the superego, all in one novel. Fine; but though we’re drawn in by each of these characters and their various troubles and travails, in the end we’re left wanting. Sure, the stories are engaging (Arnon, Hani, and Devora each speak directly to a different “you”), but the book as a whole doesn’t satisfy. “Do you understand?” the characters say, again and again. “Can you understand?” Yes, of course, you’ll want to respond; but so what?

Nevo is a funny, engaging writer, but his new book settles for cleverness without reaching for something more genuinely moving.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59051-878-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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