David Horovitz's "A Little Too Close to God" paints a tense and touching portrait of life in Israel. … P.D. James turns from mysteries to autobiography in "A Time to Be in Earnest." 

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A Land of Struggle
"A Little Too Close to God" (Knopf, $26), by David Horovitz is brilliantly written by a talented journalist who bares his soul to the reader. He describes in agonizing detail the emotional trauma experienced every day by Israeli families living with young children in Eretz Yisroel, the land of Israel.

He begins by telling of a Wednesday when he has lunch at a restaurant on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem with a couple of friends. The next day, three Palestinian terrorists blow up themselves and five Israelis who are sitting at the same patio table he and his friends had lunched at. Three days later, his 5-year-old son, Josh, who has seen the news of the bombing on TV and has heard his parents discussing the near miss, asks, "If you both get killed, who is going to make our sandwiches?"

A young David Horovitz emigrated to Israel from England in 1983. He found his niche in journalism and now edits Jerusalem Reports newsmagazine and is a frequent contributor to newspapers around the world. He edited and co-authored the Reports' biography of Yitzak Rabin, "Shalom, Friend," which won the U.S. National Book Award for nonfiction.

The Israel that Horovitz describes is at once supremely satisfying and unremittingly harsh. It is a land of beauty and spirit, where the Jewish nation has undergone remarkable renewal and a vibrant society is constantly being reshaped. Horovitz also describes how the unrelenting tension has produced a people who smoke too much, drive too fast and spend too much time arguing.

He makes clear the lasting effects of Rabin's assassination; the increasing incursions by the ultra-Orthodox into daily life; the anxieties that beset parents as their children approach the age of mandatory military service; and the constant fear of violent attack by fundamental extremists.

His criticism of the right-wing Orthodox and their political party, Shas, is biting, even though his brother-in-law is a member and lives in a disputed settlement in the West Bank.

This little book is an eye-opener for readers who are familiar with Israel and its ongoing struggle to achieve peace with its neighbors. It is a primer for the uninformed. It is timely and explains the multifaceted psyche of Israelis of all backgrounds who are trying to live each day in their tiny land under extremely difficult circumstances. If you want the story behind tomorrow's news from Israel, warts and all, read this book.

— Harry Cohn

An Author Revealed
This time, instead of a mystery, P.D. James has given us what she calls " a fragment of an autobiography." She does not dissemble: That exactly describes "A Time to Be in Earnest" (Knopf, $25). James begins the book on her 77th birthday and completes the task on her 78th. She tells us immediately that she will keep the confidences of her friends and will not include any "gossip." Within these limits she gives a fascinating account of her childhood, her thoughts about family, about the construction of a mystery story and current life in literary England.

Her readers, she thinks, love mysteries because the best take place within limits and provide the reader with the essential clues. At the end balance is restored, and justice is served in this chaotic world.

Alas, as the year progresses, James seems to lose interest in keeping her diary: More days are skipped, and entries seem to settle for an account of her talks and the parties she attends.

But the first half of "A Time" is fun. It provides an understanding of the author's personality and of how she was shaped both by the education that came to her largely by luck (and because of her talent). We also see the difficulties of living with a mentally ill husband whom she loved and the joy of providing for and raising two daughters.

Note: When you read this book, be sure to take the time to enjoy the appendix, which is a talk James gave to the Jane Austen Society analyzing "Emma Considered as a Detective Story."

— Rozanne Epps


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