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KIRKUS REVIEW

Palestine, 1895-1948--in a well-intentioned, stilted, 624-page saga of a moderate Arab and a moderate Jew trying to remain friends and partners while their families tangle in complex historical hostilities. Judah Nouari and Mohamed Hammadi are both in Paris in 1895, young men training as bankers so they can carry on their families' Jerusalem-based trading empire. Judah, however, is soon caught up in Zionism (cameos by Herzl and Weizmann), thanks to his infatuation with earthy activist Zosia--whose violent death becomes his longtime inspiration. (Only decades later will Judah learn that Zosia, secretly married, was just using him.) And while Judah weds a Zosia-substitute--her cousin Ruth--Mohamed marries chic Jacqueline, who turns out to be a manic-depressive nymphomaniac. (Her first child is actually fathered by a blackmailing pimp.) But even more serious problems arise back home as World War I arrives: Mohamed's volatile cousins are arrested for anti-Turkish terrorism; pragmatic Mohamed sells arms to the Turks while Judah joins Ben-Gurion's Zion Mule Corps to fight alongside the British; Judah's uncle and Mohamed's uncle both die via Turkish oppression. And during the postwar Mandate, with the Turks no longer the common enemy, Arab-Jew tensions mount: Judah's brother Ben is an early kibbutznik (no Arabs allowed); Mohamed's cousins lead Al Fatah attacks on Jewish settlements; Ben is killed by the British (their spy is Judah's mistress) while smuggling in illegal immigrants. So finally even Judah, who loses an arm in an Al Fatah bombing, joins the Haganah; but after World War II--during which those Al Fatah cousins help to rescue Judah's estranged wife and son from a deathcamp--he is horrified by Irgun terrorism. . . and has a stroke when he learns that his son (and Mohamed's M.D. daughter) are involved in the King David Hotel bombing. Lasky and Silver work hard to present both sides of the issues (with longwinded speeches and debates); to give the terrorists humanity (one of the Arab cousins commits suicide when he sees films of Holocaust horrors); and to touch on every chronological landmark. Unfortunately, this doesn't leave much room for character development--so the personal dramas here (some homosexuality, some Arab/Jew intermarriage, Jacqueline's suicide, etc.) are sketchy; and even the Judah/Mohamed friendship lacks depth. Still, though less a family saga than a TV-movie-style history lesson, this is generally tasteful and readable (best in the action sequences)--no Exodus, but a fairly painless, informative pageant for the Israel-history audience.

Pub Date: July 10th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday