THE MIRACLE HATER by Shulamith Hareven


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Abbreviated, acrid historical fiction by Israeli author Hareven (City of Many Days, 1977), who here retells the Hebrews' Exodus from Egypt from the bitter perspective of a minor, self-exiled player in the drama. Born in a ""hot, cramped"" burrow to hired-hand Milka, the bastard Eshkar is at once turned over by his mother to four-year-old Baita, who raises him amidst the bustling poverty of the Hebrews' camp in Egypt. One day while Eshkar is still a boy, Moses appears in camp; his authority swelled by ""wondrous"" stories of miracle-working, he declares the Exodus. By the thousands, the Hebrews leave Egypt, finding in the desert ""an immense freedom, vast beyond measure""--but with that freedom come acute want, hunger, and disease. At age 12, Eshkar learns that Baita is to be married off; distraught, he seeks but finds no remedy from the tribal Elders or Moses himself, and so races into the desert and exile. Only a few exceptional events punctuate the sameness of Eshkar's decades-long isolation: the death of Baita; the day Eshkar watches from afar as Moses, ""a man with probing eyes and a pugnaciously outthrust beard,"" performs the miracle of drawing water up from chalky rock; the time when Moses departs camp, and the Hebrews, giddily freed from his rule, melt gold and fashion the golden calf; Eshkar's mating with an outcast girl and adoption of her bastard son. At last, as ""time itself seemed to go mad and nights chased each other faster and faster,"" the Hebrews leave the desert and, led by Moses, enter the Ancestral Land--with Eshkar trailing along, joined by his mate and the child. Fiction as grittily real as sand on the tongue; but most American readers, though sure to appreciate Hareven's hand-picked prose, are unlike to care much about her crotchety revision of the Exodus story--or about her sullen, selfish protagonist.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1988
Publisher: North Point