I’m sure you can guess by looking at my blog that I don’t read a lot of fiction. However, when I do I tend to gravitate towards stuff by international authors. Several years ago, thanks to my public library I discovered the publishing house Europa Editions. Through Europa I was introduced to the fiction of Algerian-Italian novelist Amara Lakous as well as that of Israeli Yishai Sarid. Well, thanks to Europa I can add another Israeli to that short but distinguished roster of excellent novelists. Not long ago during one my weekend library visits I spotted a 1989 Europa edition of Benjamin Tammuz’s 1981 novel Minotaur. Knowing that Europa’s been pretty good to me so far, I took a chance on Minotaur. Crazy thing is once I started Tammuz’s novel, at first I didn’t like it. However, once I got rolling, Minotaur really grew on me. By the time I finished it, I was enjoying the heck out of it.
On its surface, Minotaur is the story of a 40 something Mossad agent, his long-term romantic obsession with a much younger English woman and his attempts over the years to woo her through passionate love letters while at the same time keeping his identity secret. But what makes the novel fun is Tammuz’s employment of small but powerful cast of flawed characters. As the novel unfolds the story shifts from the vantage point of one character to another, including their respective backstories. With two characters English, one Greek (a former resident of Alexandria, Beirut and Berlin) and one Israeli (a first generation Sabra with a Russian Jew father and a Swiss Gentile mother) for an Israeli novel Minotaur has more of a European feel than that of a Middle Eastern one. The novel is also hard to classify. Even though one character is a spy, since there’s not a lot of what we would consider espionage going on, I can’t consider Minotaur a spy novel. Without divulging too much, it’s not really a love story either. Perhaps the New York Times said it best when it called Minotaur “a novel about the expectations and compromises that humans create for themselves.” And considering the flawed nature of the novel’s international cast of characters, no wonder Minotaur slowly but surely won me over.