cover image Fima


Amos Oz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $22.95 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-15-189851-0

In what is surely his best book since The Black Box , the Israeli author writes a stirring tale in which one man's emotional disintegration mirrors the ethical breakdown of the Jewish state. Oz uses his eponymous protagonist to indict what he sees as the ineptitude of the Israeli government and the foolishness of the intelligentsia. Efraim ``Fima'' Nisan, sometime poet, sometime journalist, full-time dreamer, polemicist, philosopher and receptionist at a Jerusalem gynecological clinic, has made a mess of what was once a promising life. Twice divorced, supported mainly by gifts from his loving father, he bumbles through his days in an absentminded fog interrupted by long interior monologues and obsessive verbal diatribes in which he rails against the corruption of Israeli values. Contemplating the occupation of the Territories, Fima goes almost mad with moral outrage, taking upon himself the moral conscience of the nation. Fima is semihysterical, delusional and exasperating; yet the morally centered source of his anguish--the frenzy with which he searches for ethical answers and for emotional fulfillment (though a bumbler, he manages to sleep with several women)--makes him quite endearing. The novel teems with ideas hurled at a frantic pace, and with dialogue that argues and counter-argues the essential issues of Jewish history. Instead of the detached stance and elliptical technique he has maintained in recent novels, Oz sustains a high level of intellectual and emotional energy here as he writes with fierce passion and comic brio. (Oct.)