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On a farm in Israel near the Syrian border, Eitan attends ""the smallest school in the world,"" in a storeroom where a ""girl soldier"" who is also a certified teacher has been assigned just to him. Through his teacher Eitan meets the soldiers on a nearby base, and on his own he becomes friendly with a Syrian boy who has crossed the border in pursuit of a wandering skin-and-bones donkey. Then, with Eitan's mother off to town to have a baby, the Yom Kippur War breaks out; his army major father is called up; the evacuation bus fails to appear; and Eitan finds himself surrounded by fighting. From there, the story of Eitan's rising to the occasion is bound to progress from coping to heroism: Eitan deals with a burst water main, does his best to keep up with the farm chores, cares for wounded soldier friend Asher'ke and, with Asher'ke, takes a prisoner who turns out to be a Syrian intelligence chief loaded with top secrets. But despite this last, Ofek doesn't play the events for wartime heroics. If anything, this is too gentle a view of war: all concerned are so humane and unprejudiced toward the enemy that readers might wonder how they came to be fighting at all; and Taslitt's outmoded American slang furthers a bland, watered-down impression. Nevertheless there is honesty and appeal in Ofek's sympathetic portrayal of Eitan as a vulnerable ten-year-old, the same child we met tame and happy in the ""smallest school,"" now doing his best in a situation he recognizes as too much for him.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row