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Kirkus: "With echoes of Kafka and Conrad, Israeli novelist Tammuz (Castle in Spain) has fashioned a provocative, spare, slow-to-unfold mystery of character."

Date: Jun 26 2012

With echoes of Kafka and Conrad, Israeli novelist Tammuz (Castle in Spain) has fashioned a provocative, spare, slow-to-unfold mystery of character--an empty canvas that's teasingly filled in with skill and style. We begin with ""a man, who was a secret agent""--a nameless 41-year-old who, on assignment in Europe, sees beautiful young student Thea and becomes forever obsessed. He writes in his diary, he sends her letters, he shadows her, but--though she writes back, with growing curiosity and even love--he never lets her see him. And as the years pass, Thea becomes engaged (when her fiancÉ dies in a car-crash, she suspects "Mr. Anonymous" of foul play); she pleads for a face-to-face meeting; but then she takes an older, Greek-born professor-lover. . . who also seems to meet with violence--in a cafÉ shooting. All very mysterious--but then Tammuz begins to fill in. First, with a sketch-history of Thea's doomed fiancÉ ""G.R.""--a weak, over-bred fellow whose death now becomes even more linked with Mr. Anonymous. Then, with the story of Thea's other lover, scholar-pianist Nikos--whose safety from Mr. Anonymous becomes Thea's obsession. And though these two evocatively detailed sequences are intriguing in their own right, it's the long final section that's crucial: the full story of Mr. Anonymous--Alexander Abramov, the son of European musicians (a middle-aged Russian Jew, a young German woman) who settle in Palestine. Alexander grows up with his mother's madness--and with violence: the Haganah, anti-Arab vengeance. He becomes a spy, an arms dealer. So, by the time he sees Thea--and hope of redemption--on that first, fatal day, Alexander is sick of violence, disillusioned with the endless Israeli/Arab killing. Ironic, then, that he takes on the blame for G.R.'s death (which he considered but did not arrange). And that final cafÉ-shooting violence--which seemed to be the work of Alexander/Mr. Anonymous--is revealed to be the opposite: all of the violence of his life has in fact turned back on Alexander, whose change-of-heart has come too late. True, if Tammuz had told this tale straightforwardly--with Alexander exposed and in focus from the start--it would seem thin, didactic, and rather laboriously psychological; and the montage/replay format doesn't completely disguise these weaknesses. But the combination cf unusual structure with cool, crystalline narration is highly effective--and, though you may end this novel feeling less than fully satisfied, you will probably be intrigued and set neatly on edge throughout.