cover image Black Box

Black Box

Amos Oz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $19.95 (259pp) ISBN 978-0-15-112888-4

Although they have been divorced seven years, Ilana, an Israeli, is still obsessed with her abusive, brilliant ex-husband, Alex, now a university professor in Chicago. She writes asking him to parcel out some of his considerable wealth and influence to benefit their son, Boaz, whom he abandoned. Oz (A Perfect Peace ) orchestrates impressively distinct and multilayered voices in an ensuing correspondence whose participants vie for each others' forgiveness and affection and, as after a plane crash, analyze the contents of the ""black box'' of Ilana and Alex's perverse relationship. Passionate Ilana is self-knowing and intensely loyal, yet self-destructively deceitful; barely literate Boaz is a cruel/kind savage who founds a utopian commune. Ilana's present husband, Moroccan-born Michel, is humble and loving but also chauvinistic and fawningly ambitious. A war hero, the cold, irreverent, love-starved Alex has written an international bestseller on fanaticism. In the hands of eminent Israeli writer Oz, this novel is more than a testament to the indivisible bonds of love and marriage; it is also an elegy to the demise of the Israeli old guard rooted in Eastern European socialism and the emergence of Sephardic and religious revisionists, and an eloquent meditation on the inevitability of death, the profound ties of parent and child, the seductive venality of money and the servitude of women. No doubt the barbs and homilies are far more pungent in the original Hebrew, however. And the epistolary format is constricting rather than creativeIlana's flowery prose and Michel's right-wing messianic propaganda run on unchecked for pages. (May)