cover image Bone to the Bone

Bone to the Bone

Nathan Shaham. Grove Press, $22 (345pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1001-5

Israeli writer Shaham's tale is a tragic, brooding, noble and earnest--often rather too earnest--portrayal of one man who was born with the 20th century and shared many of its enthusiasms and torments, sacrificing his personal life on the altar of ideology. Russian-born Avigdor Barkov is a pioneer Zionist and ardent Communist who travels from the Ukraine to Palestine to the Crimea to Moscow joining various radical groups and fathering a son and daughter by a wife and a mistress en route. However, he says, ``I myself would have despised a man who was prepared to back down in an argument for the sake of living with a woman or bringing up a child.'' In Moscow, Barkov remakes himself into a ``new Soviet man'' determined to build a socialist paradise, but before long he falls victim to Stalin's terror and spends the next 25 years in Siberian prisons and work camps--with time off to serve in the Red Army as an engineer. It is only when he is 70 that Barkov returns to Israel to face the children he never knew and the two women he had abandoned for politics. Though Shaham ( The Rosendorf Quartet ) has constructed a sweeping plot that continually intersects with our century's history, his protagonist's endless soul-searching and tedious political speculation undermine the novel's impact. (Oct.)