This novel's protagonist spews lots of words, but its S.F. author has little new to say

By Alan Kaufman

Back Bay (October 2005), $13.95

In San Francisco writer Alan Kaufman's semi-autobiographical novel, Nathan Falk, a young New Yorker, has enlisted in the Israeli army. The war against the Palestinians, though, isn't quite as simple as it seemed on TV back in the United States. It's a hot, dry, violent patrol through the occupied territories, where "information seems to make no difference at all" and applying logic to the conflict appears futile. Kaufman is at his best describing the action and Falk's immediate reactions to it, but his prose often hinders the storytelling. He makes infrequent use of cryptic, Yoda-like grammar ("Only twenty-four he was, the boy") and overly lengthy descriptions, at times naming half a dozen colors in a single paragraph. The author rarely restrains himself from repetition and analysis ("We teamed well together, we three -- liked each other a lot, got along") and too often relies on hackneyed war metaphors (theater, big-game hunting, the board game Risk). The plot follows Falk through a series of loosely related episodes, with a brief stop in Jerusalem for a disastrous affair with his best friend's wife. Yet Falk doesn't learn from his experiences or teach us anything, merely stating platitudes such as, "Israel has a right to exist and defend herself, but Arabs are people, too." A lot of words escape from Falk's mouth, but Kaufman doesn't seem to have much new to say.

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