cover image Esau


Meir Shalev. HarperCollins Publishers, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019040-8

The biblical rivalry between Esau and his younger twin, Jacob, who tricks him out of their father's blessing, serves as the prototype for this yeasty, vibrant and sprawling modern-day family saga from Israeli novelist Shalev (The Blue Mountain). Esau, born in 1923 in Prague, grows up in Palestine, where his fault-finding, overworked father, Abraham, runs a bakery and seethes with resentment at the twins' aggressive, free-spirited mother, Sarah, a Russian convert to Judaism. Jacob marries Leah-the woman Esau loves-and inherits their father's bakery; Esau, disgruntled, emigrates to the U.S., becomes a gourmet food columnist and suffers through a string of meaningless affairs. Narrated by Esau with a genial cynicism, the novel shuttles back and forth between the U.S. and Israel from the 1920s through the '70s, unreeling dozens of stories of sorrow, joy, death, war and love. Into this engrossing tapestry, Shalev weaves three seemingly unrelated tales-one concerning a duke's Rabelaisian journey to Alexandria and Jerusalem in 1898, the others tragic stories of obsession-that eventually intersect with the main plot in surprising and ingenious ways. (Nov.)