The life stories of the many characters populating the novel reflect various chapters in the history of the land; the coming of age of the hero Avner is characteristic of the growth of a whole generation of native Israelis born to immigrant families which fought to establish the State of Israel and took in the Holocaust survivors. Avner is not "a legendary hero" at heart, but rather a humble representative of his generation, far from any extremes. The characters which surround him, and whose lives he observes, are far bolder than he. Like him, many of them lived in an ageing apartment house, constructed during the 1920s in Tel Aviv. In the novel, Avner plans to preserve the structure and turn it into a museum which will be called "The Heart of Tel Aviv." It is to house an exhibit of paintings by Avner's father, a minor painter prior to the establishment of the State. Two of Avner's friends, former tenants of the building, symbolize the opposite poles of the political spectrum, which is part of current-day Israel. It seems as if the main streams of utopia and the revolution of the Zionist dream were all conceived within this structure. Elkanah, born to a wealthy family, joins the left-wing Hashomer Ha'zair movement and sets out to realize his idealistic principles in a kibbutz in the south. He was and remains a pure idealist, true to his chosen path, until his death in a road accident. Dror, the other friend, who joined the radical underground movement of the Lehi, becomes a cruel and extreme character; in the course of the War of Independence he took part in the execution of a Jewish girl (also a resident of the building) who had befriended an Arab and was accused of treason. This is also the story of the girls and women whom Avner has encountered in the course of his life, including the kind-hearted girl who was executed; a Holocaust survivor whom he first met in Europe and meets again many years later; a revolutionary who went to the Soviet Union, was exiled to Siberia and eventually emigrated to Paris, where Avner encounters her again and renews their relationship; his first wife Mira, a wealthy snob whom he never really loved; and his second wife Michal, Elkanah's widow who lost a son in the Yom Kippur War. This brimming, jam-packed novel depicts Avner's ideological and professional route; from the time he assists in the illegal immigration of Holocaust survivors during the British Mandate, to the point when he joins the Foreign Service and at the end of his career is a partner to the peace negotiations between Israel and neighboring Arab countries.
Shaham studies his ageing protagonist through the wise eyes of a writer who has seen much, felt much and knows how to awaken simple human emotions in the reader in a direct and honest fashion.
Shaham [has written] the biography of an entire generation and historical geography, half-true and half-fabricated. Here, Shaham proves yet again that the realistic novel has not expired. It simply waits for singularly talented writers.
Critic Ariana Melamed
English translation available (for publishers only)