BOOK REVIEW / A magical maternity with mirrors: 'Mr Mani' - A B Yehoshua, Tr Hillel Halkin: Peter Halban, 15.99 pounds
Saturday 17 April 1993
Indeed there are so many metaphors, situations, characters repeating themselves that we have to go back to the Manis of 1918, 1899 and 1848 to understand why in 1982 Mr Mani performs a nightly ritual of attempted suicide, why he is drawn to the Arabic parts of Jerusalem, why a young girl who mourns for her dead father will not let go of him.
The book begins during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, moves backwards through two world wars and the birth of Zionism. Mr Mani appears in each epoch and each conversation. Sometimes an eccentric, sometimes a prophet, always the wandering Jew, he is a man uncomfortable in his time.
The novel's form is as intriguing as its content. The story of the Mani family is told through conversations of which we hear only one side. A German soldier stationed in Crete in 1944 defends his strange friendship with Efrayim Mani, a Jew who had 'cancelled' his Jewishness. A British officer in Palestine in 1918 explains the case of Yosef Mani, who spied for the Turks and urged Arabs to claim their half of Palestine before it was too late.
In the final conversation, Avraham Mani confesses to a rabbi who is paralysed and silenced by a stroke that after discovering that his murdered son's marriage was never consummated, he slept with his daughter-in-law and thus passed on the Mani seed, 'giving and getting love that sweetened a great commandment carried out by a great transgression'.
The one-sided dialogues not only give this complex novel a much needed simplicity of form but they also engage us. We begin to fill in the missing words until each of us becomes the silent partner. For this is more than just a tale of one eccentric family; it has the relentlessness of the Old Testament, the contentiousness of Job. The Manis not only pass down their sense of guilt, the source of their quixotic and often tragic fate, they ask in each generation what it means to be a Jew: are we not all from the same seed, are we not all 'Jews forgetful of being Jews'?
This book seems much longer than it is because each line is significant, each image calls forth a pattern of images, each chapter could be a novel in itself. The writing is almost too cerebral and at times it is difficult to accept that the characters would speak in such metaphorical language, with such extraordinary insight. Yet we are fascinated by these powerful stories and disturbed by the odd and compelling figure of Mr Everyman.
Grace Dent on TVtv
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 2 Mother of newborn Baby No 59 trapped in sewer pipe told Chinese police she 'heard crying' when she raised alarm
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Tennis fan suing Australian Open organisers for 'failing to shade spectators' during Murray match
- 5 This crazy skiing video will leave you feeling queasy
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Photographer Matt Lankes' portraits of the cast of Boyhood influenced the film's storyline
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks