Abraham B. Yehoshua, , trans. from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin. . Harcourt, $27 (576pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100653-3

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THE LIBERATED BRIDEA.B. Yehoshua, trans. from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin. Harcourt, $27 (576p) ISBN 0-15-100653-9

As he has proved in acclaimed previous novels (Mr. Mani; Open Heart), Yehoshua is a keen observer of social and political realities, and a subtle writer capable of reflecting complex situations in events of daily life. Here, what at first appears to be a bittersweet comedy of domestic manners set in 1990s Israel morphs into a searching exploration of a politically divided society in which decent people, both Jews and Arabs, try to live peaceably with each other. To be sure, this is a small segment of Israeli society: the Israeli intelligentsia, represented by Professor Yochanan Rivlin and his wife, Hagit, a district judge, who live in Haifa, as well as educated Arabs in Galilee villages whose existence is circumscribed by the rules of occupation. Many mysteries shimmer beneath the narrative's surface. Underlying the affectionate domestic banter of Yochanan and Hagit is Yochanan's obsessive quest to discover what went wrong in the short marriage of their son and his wife, a quest complicated by a horrifying secret the sundered couple have vowed not to divulge. Meanwhile, an Arab graduate student of Yochanan's, whose wedding begins the narrative, seeks to earn her degree by translating the works of contemporary Arab poets collected by an Israeli scholar killed in a terrorist bombing. The threat of violence, while acknowledged by everyone, is not in the forefront of the plot, which is more concerned with the complacency of intelligent Israeli Jews in the face of the plight of their Arab neighbors. The grand achievement of this trenchant novel is its quietly provocative and deeply important consideration of how the desire for liberation—of various kinds—is inescapable in human nature. Although one character speaks in measured terms of "the abyss we are all about to fall into," it is the simple aspirations of ordinary people that illuminate the larger issues. Author appearances in New York; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago. (Nov.)

Forecast:Yehoshua's status as a major contemporary writer will gain added luster with this novel, which will appeal to discriminating readers.