“Minotaur” – by Benjamin Tammuz

In ancient mythology, the Minotaur was part man, part bull, condemned to live in a labyrinth, and fed children for sustenance. “Minotaur” is also the name of  what is perhaps Israeli author Benjamin Tammuz’ best known novel.  Tammuz was a Russian born, Palestinian bred Israeli who was an artist as well as an author, and a cultural journalist for Haaretz.  He died in 1988.

I picked up the book by chance – it was short, I could buy it for 50 cents at the book store, and I had a couple of hours to kill before my next commitment.  I expected little, but got much more.

This is a novel about obsessive love.  Well, not really, it’s about obsession.  Period.  Alexander Abramov is an Israeli intelligence agent, who spends the majority of his time in Europe, doing who knows what (actually, no one knows, because he’s an Israeli intelligence operative).  You don’t really learn this until the last third or so of the book.  All you know is that there is a man who spends time in London but doesn’t live in England, and who by chance got on a bus one day, and saw the girl of his dreams.  She was about 17, and he was in his early 40s.  He finds out who she is and where she lives, and begins a sporadic correspondence with her, expressing his love, but telling her that they cannot meet (without telling her why).  The correspondence goes on for years and years.  And it’s a two way correspondence; she is intrigued and, for some reason, neither upset nor scared.

She becomes engaged and is about to get married when her fiance dies in a one car crash.  She asks her mysterious suitor “tell me, did you have a hand in the death of G.R.?”  Years later, when she is a lecturer in Spanish at a university in Kent, she meets an intriguing foreigner, older than she, with a strange accent. Nikos. Can this be him?

No, she realizes, but they become an item, and Nikos’ obsession with her is as strong as is Alex’s.  And, it turns out (of course) that twelve years earlier, Alex and Nikos had a run in with each other.  And at least Alex remembers.  Should Alex do away with Nikos (as he thought about doing away with G.R., or perhaps as he actually did)?

Oh, yes, Alex does have a wife and several children back in Israel – he knows that if he decides to leave his family for a woman 25 years his junior in England, he will be fired from the intelligence service.  He also knows that his enemies have identified him and that if he goes to Europe without being disguised, he will be targeted.

What to do……..

Finely written, nice character developments, not quite realistic, but it certainly carries you right along.  Is there a moral to this story?  I couldn’t find one.  Anywhere.  Is Alex the Minotaur?  I guess so – he certainly has created a labyrinth with no exit – even if the labyrinth exists only in his mind.

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