A massive, absorbing, restrained novel about the horrors of the Polish Jews under Russian occupation in 1939 and thereafter, and some weird hairpin events that worked toward the establishment of Zionism in Palestine. Abel Abramowski has deserted Jewry and, with his father, has become a Catholic; he joins the Polish army to fight the Germans--but it is Russia that finally takes over Lwow and his homeland area. Is Poland really his homeland? His uncle Mendletort, a diplomat, thinks it is and that Poland--""the Christ of all nations""--provides the cultural base for a Jewish nation once it gets its goals straight; why start from nothing in a desert? Abel deserts the army, goes into hiding, impregnates his sweetheart Catherine, is turned in by a traitor, and spends the next 23 months in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow being tortured for the political sins of his uncle Mendletort some ten years earlier. In solitary, with a bare bulb burning constantly, he loses an eye, his teeth, his fingernails--but refuses to sleep or lie down and becomes a symbol of independence. Catherine, also captured, is shipped to the great transit prison of Butryki in Moscow, where she has his child under enormously degrading conditions, and then is sent to work in subzero mines in the country. Meanwhile, we watch the massacre of the Polish officer corps by the Russians, about 14,000 men who are shot in the head in a Russian forest and buried. Despair deepens with the fall of France, but the fantastic invasion of Russia by its German allies brings about the formation of a Polish army drawn from Poles in Russian work camps and prisons, an army sent into battle against the Germans and allied with the new Polish army staff in Moscow and the Polish government in exile in Britain. Abel, released and promoted to be a top officer, now finds himself fighting beside the British in Palestine, to which Catherine also has been sent--but, ironically, they never meet. . . . Some readers may be skeptical about Kuniczak's emotional blending of Polish and Jewish traditions of culture and suffering; and the characters occasionally take awkward flights into political dithyrambs. But dramatic and stirring it is, drawing an odd, layered power from both the Polish and Jewish literary traditions.