Friday, February 24, 2012

Mr. Mani

Wow, it took me a long time to read this book by Israel's A.B. Yehoshua!  It was a really tough read for a few reasons.  The book tells the story of six generations of the Mani family (the "Mr. Mani's", in particular).  Except for the last section, each generation of Mr. Mani is described from the perspective of someone else who encounters him.  In the last section, you actually hear a Mr. Mani's voice.  But there are two aspects of the writing style which makes this book rather hard to follow (though they also make it really unique and interesting).  First, it is written in reverse chronological order - so the first section actually addresses the last Mr. Mani's (taking place in 1982) and the last deals with the original Mr. Mani's (taking place in 1848).  What makes it even more interesting, however, is that each section is a conversation and we only get to hear one side of the conversation so we have to deduce what's being said by the other party. It took me quite a while to get used to this but once I did I could really appreciate the artistry involved in writing in that manner - the author had to imagine a whole other side of the conversation that he was not writing down.  The story itself is very interesting - each of the Mr. Mani's was a troubled soul and those who encounter them describe their psychological issues.  Moreover, it addresses many historical events over the years - from the Napoleonic wars through the Zionist Congresses, the two World Wars and ending during Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982.  It also takes place in a multitude of places - a Kibbutz in the Negev, Jerusalem, Crete, Poland, Constantinople and Greece...

I highly recommend this book, but only if you have time and patience to devote to it.  It's not a breezy beach read.  Unfortunately I'll miss my book club's discussion because I'd be interested to hear what the others think of it.

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