Dutch writer Friedman proves herself a master of the short story in these three moving, beautifully nuanced tales, which explore Holocaust themes (as she did in her praised novels Nightfather and The Shovel and the Loom) but also branch out in new directions. In the trenchant title story, a fable set between the wars, Gershom Katz, a widowed 100-year-old Polish Jew, becomes the boarder of a wicked, greedy couple who work the old man to exhaustion. Gershom finds comfort, and genuine love, by befriending a donkey. ""Holy Fire"" charts the metamorphosis of an average Dutch Jewish teenager into a fanatical fundamentalist who moves to Brooklyn, joins a militant Hasidic sect and ultimately, as a settler on the West Bank, kills a Palestinian boy. Interspersed with this narrative thread is the parallel tale of the narrator, a Dutch Jewish journalist whose authoritarian, Orthodox father disowns her when she leaves home at 18. In the agonizing final story, a Dutch woman cares for her terminally ill mother, Bette, who is dying of cancer two years after she herself nursed her husband, an Auschwitz survivor, who relived the horrors of the concentration camps on his deathbed. Now Bette's impending death should draw together her three children, but they remain strangers to one another, constantly at odds and bitter about their legacy. At her funeral, one of the children intones, ""We carry our separate mothers to the grave."" ""Bette"" is both a disquieting, candid portrait of the post-Holocaust generation and a strong vision of death with dignity. (Oct.) FYI: The Shovel and the Loom has been made into a film, Left Luggage, starring Isabella Rosellini, which debuts in the U.S. at the Chicago Film Festival in October.
Reviewed on: 08/03/1998 Release date: 08/01/1998 Genre: Fiction