Stories of the new Israel

Talking to the Enemy     by Avner Mandelman

144 pp., Seven Stories Press, New York 2005  ....   reviewed by David P. Stern


      Avner Mandelman lives in the west, including Canada (where this book was printed), but his roots are in Israel, and here are some of his short stories about Israel's realities. They include gritty and raw tales from the universe of hit-men of Israel's secret service, professionals in the art of killing for what they view as a fair cause. If you have seen the film "Walk on Water" (highly recommended!) you may have already visited that universe: the view you get here is less comfortable and more stark. The characters, their language and relationships are rough yet believable.

    Much of what is told here seem concerned with the fine line between what is moral and what is not. All is fair in love and war, goes the saying--yet in Mandelman's stories, "fair" is a hazy concept. The last story "Og" (weakest of the lot, probably) is an allegoric fable about a mythical giant king from the Bible, and it bluntly asks: when your own survival is at stake, is the killing of innocent bystanders acceptable? Good question.

    It's a slim book, but take your time--the writing is dense, and the stories may get you thinking. Even the funny ones have a sting, like "Mish Mash" which pokes fun at the Jewish religious establishment, treading waters too deep for its own spiritual good: a farce, of course, but a clever one. "Black" addresses ethnic prejudice, and "Life in Parts" may be about marital fidelity--yet neither story is easy to classify. Nor is the title story, "Talking to the Enemy" which serves up a mix of revenge, love, lust, duty and a lot more. You'll just have to read it and make up your own mind.

    And while the stories revolve around moral issues, they also reveal something about the soul of modern Israel, both its petty issues and its major concerns. You won't get a complete picture, by no means. But you will taste the flavor.


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Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
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Last updated 1 September 2005