Saturday, January 29, 2011

Minotaur (Benjamin Tammuz)

'He remembered what Chekov said about loaded revolvers: "If a revolver appears in the first act of a play it must be fired in the third act." [...] A revolver can appear in the first act and be fired pointlessly, and despite this it will be a play worth performing...(p180)'

So goes a passage from Benjamin Tammuz' 1981 English Book of the Year winner Minotaur. This powerful story revolves around an Israeli secret agent and his all-consuming love for a much younger woman. This is not Lolita; the two never meet except through letters and records exchanged over the years. Thea, the young woman, is about seventeen when forty-one year old Alex Abramov first sees her on a bus, yet something in her carriage and demeanor captivates the older, hardened man. He watches her from a distance, and in time engages her in an intriguing epistolary relationship. Thea is drawn to her mysterious suitor as well, accepting the strangeness of his existence while attempting to create a life of normalcy.

Aside from Alex and Thea, Minotaur also chronicles the lives of two of Thea's lovers: G.R., the man she almost married, and Nikos, her most recent lover. By shifting the perspective to these men, Mr Tammuz eloquently pieces together key moments in Alex and Thea's shared history. The result is not just a plot that oscillates with richness and passion despite its deceptive simplicity, but detailed studies in character as well. Minotaur urges you to come full circle: it starts with Alex, the secret agent, before moving to G.R., Nikos, and finally, Alex, the man. Alex's devotion to Thea is moving; throughout the novel, I came to view him with equal parts of ire and pity.

Minotaur struck a chord in me because I responded to the masterful way that Mr Tammuz drew me into these characters' lives. There was something almost voyeuristic in it, as if the reader has taken over Alex's role as a spy. I found the images brimming with emotion (my copy was translated from Hebrew by Kim Parfitt and Mildred Budny). It stirred within me questions regarding morality and devotion and forgiveness until its beautiful, bitter denouement. 'God gave signs, long ago,' Mr Tammuz writes, 'only to his prophets, not to simple girls, even if they were as simple as goddesses, according to their lovers (p96).' The novel is a prophet then, and the signs of the resolution of Alex and Thea's lives are laid bare on the page. It is a love story that I know will always resonate with me.


fantaghiro23 said...

Beautiful review to an interesting book. Where'd you get your copy? I'm now putting this on my radar.

dementedchris said...

Thanks, Honey! I'm glad it encouraged you to give this book a try. :) I bought my copy from Amazon.