cover image Escape from Egypt

Escape from Egypt

Sonia Levitin. Little Brown and Company, $16.95 (267pp) ISBN 978-0-316-52273-1

Not even the amply gifted Levitin ( Journey to America ; The Golem and the Dragon Girl ) can quite pull off this one, a coming-of-age/love story set against the Israelites' exodus from Egypt. As usual, Levitin's characterizations are superb; here, she draws particularly complex, believable portraits of a half-Egyptian, half-Syrian slave girl and a Jewish slave boy striving to reconcile integrity and passion. But the unusual verisimilitude of her writing may be at cross purposes with the attempt to convey the powerful themes of the Passover story. Taken literally, the mythic qualities of the biblical plagues and miracles shrink (``The raging green-and-gray waters were pulled back and back as if by invisible hands. The sea was raised up into two walls. Now the seafloor lay exposed''). On the other hand, Levitin's exploration of questions of conscience and faith is startling and searching. Nobody in her novel mouths pieties; religious convictions are the fruits of hard and dramatic struggle. Her rigorous approach, however uneasy its combination of the divine and the day-to-day, will spur her audience to fresh appraisals of sacred history. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)