BONE TO THE BONE by Nathan Shaham


Email this review


 Shaham, winner of last year's National Jewish Book Award for The Rosendorf Quartet, organizes this ambitious new novel around the figure of a Marxist revolutionary suddenly struggling in his old age to come to terms with his part in the upheavals he has survived. Avigdor Berkov begins clearly enough with the facts of his life. He was born in Czarist Russia, left it for Palestine in the heady 1920's to work in the Labor Brigade, fathered a son on his girlfriend, but returned to Soviet Russia when his leftist positions led to his expulsion from the Brigade. Back in his homeland, he had time to settle down with a wife, Nina, and a daughter, Olga, before Stalin's infernal machine captured him and abandoned him to interrogation, torture, and a long prison term. Now, in 1970, his trip to Olga in Tel Aviv--where he'll see Vera and her son as well--forces him to reconstruct himself, and his justification for choosing political causes over family, friends, and lovers, through a shattered mosaic of memories. As in The Rosendorf Quartet, a series of narratives (here, four notebooks Berkov keeps on his arrival in Israel) dramatize increasingly powerful episodes in the principals' lives without, finally, giving the labyrinth a center. Berkov recalls his hopeful friendship with Crimean utopian Mendel Elkind, his casual betrayal of a harmless Israeli intellectual, his suspicions of the Polish editor whose desire for Nina led him to produce a forged death certificate for Berkov--all the time trying to explain himself in the present to an avid student of the Labor Brigade's infighting, a documentary filmmaker, his dismissive son-in-law, and his companions in the nursing home where he ends up. Despite Shaham's resolute understatement (``It is melodrama which I want to avoid above all,'' Berkov says early on): a memorable portrait of a survivor of himself, a man whose own actions, and whose continuing detachment from them, have branded him as indelibly as the Holocaust scarred its survivors.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8021-1001-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993