When a man writes about a woman, often the result is romance; when about a man, often realism. In his short first novel, Curt Leviant writes about a Jewish writer who writes and fantasized about a woman, and as might be expected realism is achieved while romance is dissected.
On sabbagical in Haifa, Isreal and environs, Ezra Shultish, fiftyish scholar, teacher and author of Hebrew literature spends his time pursuing an aging Nobel laureate and a Yemenite girl. The girl is partly a romantic creation of Nobel author and partly a character who works as a maid in the house fo a lesser literary light, and the two become one in Shultish's imagination.
But it's the Nobel prizewinner who holds and sustains our interest, despite the fact that he is seen only obliquely, though Shultish's glass. Carefully and sensitively portrayed, he is a complex character, full of schemes and with and little strokes of ingenious Jewish humanism.
Leviant also gives us some lovely landscapes and good comic writing and satire on the Hebrew literary scene with its jealous politicking for literary prizes. But he leaves us hungry for a female character with a life fuller than the fantasies and disappointments she elicits in men.
As a first novel, this modesty may serve to whet the appetite for future rewards from the pen of Leviant. There is potential here. (Bobbs-Merrill, $8.95)