David Grossman, Author , trans. from the Hebrew by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25 (320p) ISBN 0-374-29977-3

The spirit of the Polish-Jewish surrealist Bruno Schultz presided over Grossman's most celebrated novel, See Under: Love. The spirit of Kafka—not Kafka the novelist, but Kafka the tortured man who wrote painful letters to his fiancée, Felice—hangs over his newest one. Yair Einhorn is a neurasthenic Jerusalem bookseller, a married man and the father of a five-year-old son, who begins sending love letters to Miriam, a woman he briefly met at a party. He likes to take a magnifying glass to the spots upon his soul—and yet he seems blind to his more callous habits, as when he tells Miriam that he destroys her letters. In the end, Yair has no intention of getting physically involved with Miriam. He wants, instead, to touch her through his imagination. In a telling phrase, Yair speaks of the "barbed temptations of reality"—and so he has bottled his boldness within the limits of his language. Ultimately, this makes him less seducer than solipsist. Miriam's section of the novel is drawn from her notebook, in which she keeps up a private dialogue with Yair even after his letters stop. Her life is complicated enough without him. She lives with her lover, Amos, and together they are raising a boy who is probably the son of another woman, the now deceased former lover of both Amos and Miriam. In the brief third section, Yair and Miriam finally meet. Grossman's most enduring creation here is not Yair, who has Kafka's self-punishing attitude without Kafka's genius. It is Miriam, whose more concrete desires and less expansive linguistic flights reveal a complex, private middle-aged woman of surprising assurance and carnality. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
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