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Heym has been chastened by the Establishments of both East Germany and McCarthyist America, so it is not surprising that he writes about the politics of power and conspiracy. He claims that this latest work -- already banned by the current German regime -- can be considered ""a historical novel or a biblical one or a story of today,"" but then Ethan -- his narrator and spokesman -- notes, ""a parable is to life what the model is to the house."" Ethan, ""one of the wisest men in Israel,"" historian and provincial intellectual, is commissioned by King Solomon to write and edit a hagiography of his father David, the annointed of the Lord. A reluctant and cynical chronologer (""if it were a psalm or two I would be glad to oblige""), Ethan accepts responsibility for the ""King David Report"" (officially The One and Only True and Authoritative, Historically Correct, etc., it's from I Samuel 6 to I Kings 2 in the Bible) and in the process is transformed, rather unconvincingly, from a time-server to an artist with integrity. Is the nation-building and singleminded David -- ""a man who has demeaned himself in a great cause"" -- a stand-in for Lenin? Can the despot Solomon be seen as a Biblical Stalin? The hapless Joab, charged with David's crimes and immolated on the Temple altar, as a fallen KGB czar and the police chief Benaiah as Beria at the apex of his power? In any case, Jerusholayim -- seen through Ethan's eyes -- is bathed in blood, intrigue, murder, lust, perversion, corruption and decadence. This may all seem like a heavyhanded literary contrivance, but then speaking elliptically is often an East European necessity and using history as a moral battle ground is very German. Comparable to Bell's Group Portrait with Lady and in biblical idiom, this novel is almost a classic, ironically, succinctly and often beautifully expressive of the shadows -- to paraphrase T. S. Eliot -- that fall between the idea and the reality, the motion and the act.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1973
Publisher: Putnam