cover image Mr. Mani

Mr. Mani

Abraham B. Yehoshua. Doubleday Books, $22.5 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26792-2

The Israeli writer's previous novels ( A Late Divorce ; Five Seasons ) were critically acclaimed in this country; here he offers another richly textured, provocative work. An account of six generations of the Manis, a Jewish family living in the Middle East, the book is arranged in the form of five ``conversations,'' with the speech of only one of the two speakers present on the page. From 1982, the narrative moves backward to 1848, tracing dark domestic dramas occurring against the backdrop of historical events. Speakers--each with a strong, distinctive voice--include a contemporary Israeli woman, a Nazi soldier stationed in Crete during WW II, a British Jewish soldier in Palestine after WW I, a Jewish doctor in Galicia and a Jewish merchant in Athens. Spinning a cat's cradle of complex relationships, Yehoshua reaches beyond realism to the realms of mystery, coincidence and fate. His prose is simple and clear, rising to passages of lyricism and eloquence, as he gradually discloses the tragedy that haunts every generation of the Mani family: a succession of self-destructive, suicidal men and of fathers who die young, leaving emotionally needy children. Hints of a dread secret accrete through the narrative, to be revealed at the close. Yet the novel's message speaks to the indomitable spirit that keeps families alive. (Mar.)