The Empire Of Kalman The Cripple ($26.95; May 5, 1997; 330 pp.; 0- 8156-0448-3): A later (1983) novel set in a Polish shtetl on the eve of the Second World War, this is a masterly character study of an embittered, crafty shopkeeper who by sheer force of will transforms himself from ``a thief and a lecher . . . [into] an upstanding citizen and a philanthropist.'' Both Kalman's Balzacian appetite for life and his forebears' frustrated struggles for security are explored in convincing depth in a many-leveled narrative that accomplishes the difficult feat of eliciting our compassionate empathy with its disagreeable antihero.
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