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In the summer of 1989, at Tel-Kedar, a small settlement in the Negev Desert, the long time love affair between Theo, a sixty-year-old civil engineer, and Noa, a much younger school teacher, is slowly disintegrating. When a pupil of Noa's dies under difficult circumstances, the couple and the entire town are thrown into turmoil.
With characteristic subtlety and brilliance, Amos Oz tells a wry and tender story of frustrated ambition and love which is never quite fulfilled - bringing together stormy intrigue in a small community with gentle humour and an intimate anatomy of a relationship.
Few writers have explored the souls of Israelis with the clear, unsentimental vision that Oz brings to both his novels and his nonfiction. His characters, while influenced by political events in a land under constant siege, also exhibit the universal emotions of love, longing, fear and ambition, as well as the tension of ethical dilemmas. This novel, his 10th (after Fima), is set in Tel Kedar, a quiet desert town in the Negev that is both a microcosm of Israeli society and a vividly evoked setting whose atmosphere and residents are palpable. The protagonists, whose voices alternate in narration, are lovers, but their relationship is starting to fray. Theo, a stolid, graying, insomniac civil engineer in his 60s, feels his life has entered a stage in which he will experience "the gradual decline from pain into sadness.'' He and Noa, a frenetic, idealistic schoolteacher 15 years his junior, seem to live at cross purposes. They share an apartment, but they exist in a shadowy state of contained emotions and mild bickering. After one of Noa's students accidentally falls to his death from a cliff while on drugs (or did he jump?), ensuing events threaten Theo and Noa's relationship. The boy's shady father, a military adviser in Nigeria (or is he an arms dealer?), offers to finance a drug rehabilitation clinic in his son's memory. Noa leads the task force for the project, which Theo, like most of the community, opposes. The subtle tug-of-war between them shakes rational Theo out of his passivity and into a cautious idealism ("when you're not burning to do anything... you start dying'') and moves impulsive Noa to a more thoughtful position. Perhaps Oz's intends this as an object lesson for his country. The narrative sometimes has a static quality despite Oz's lyrical prose, but in the end, his story carries thought-provoking implications.