It's a family affair

<strong>Talking to the Enemy</strong>

Avner Mandelman <em>Seven Stories, 144pp, £11.99</em>

ISBN

From the brothels of "Life in Parts" to the rabbinical courts of "Mish-Mash", Avner Mandelman's short stories take the reader through the backstreets of modern Jewish culture, exposing the kitchen-sink dramas behind Tel Aviv's closed doors and exploring the frequent incongruity of Judaism and Jewish politics.

In "Pity", a Mossad agent sent to capture a minor Nazi war criminal loses the courage of his convictions when he realises that meeting his orders could mean killing the man's children. The narrator of "Terror" examines how refusing to defend his brother during a childhood brawl has skewed his morality in later life; he discovers, looking back, that "family comes first" - even before justice.

Mandelman, a Canadian who once served in the Israeli air force, steers clear of the Palestinian conflict until the penultimate, title story. Here, a Mossad agent seeks to avenge his son's death after PLO terrorists break into a nursery school. It is a macho account, which disappointingly sidesteps the issues in favour of some action heroism and sexual wrangling.

Nevertheless, the tension between pre-1948 Jewish history and modern times, between fathers and sons, is woven so tightly into these tales that it is difficult not to read an Arab-Israeli subtext into them, whatever one's viewpoint.