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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Benjamin Tammuz

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To purchase Minotaur

Title: Minotaur
Author: Benjamin Tammuz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980 (Eng. 1981)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Minotaur - US
Minotaur - UK
Minotaur - Canada
Minotaur - India
Le Minotaure - France
Das Geheimnis des Minotaurus - Deutschland
Il minotauro - Italia
  • Translated by Kim Parfitt and Mildred Budny

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Our Assessment:

B+ : low-key, roundabout tale of obsession

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/8/1981 David Quammen
Publishers Weekly . 12/9/2005 .
TLS . 21/6/2013 Derek B. Miller

  From the Reviews:
  • "Minotaur is a strange quiet novel about love and espionage, about the expectations and compromises that humans create for themselves, about the way those expectations and compromises take position within the labyrinthine convolutions of destiny. (...) (W)hat sounds like truism in summary becomes magically dramatic in Minotaur." - David Quammen, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Tammuz has real insight into obsessive, star-crossed love, but the prose throughout is stiff and dated. This suspenseful love story really requires pre-Oslo Israeli and bipolar geopolitics as its background noise." - Publishers Weekly

  • "(I)t seems dated and laboured now. (...) There are some fascinating passages about Abramov's family and upbringing, and a rich evocation of the eastern Mediterranean; and it seems to be here, rather than in the inert formalism of the remainder of the book, that the real story ought to be found." - Derek B. Miller, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Minotaur is an unusual character study, a four-part exercise that begins as a peculiar stalker-tale and then repeatedly shifts perspectives to throw light on the odd relationship at the novel's centre.
       The book begins with: "A man, who was a secret agent". He's forty-one when he is riding on a bus and falls in love with a teenage girl who sits down in front of him. Since he's a secret agent he knows how to get information about people, and soon finds out her address and name -- Thea.
       Secret agent man is obsessed from the first, but he's not your usual stalker. And he's apparently also busy with his undercover work. He watches Thea when he can, and he also writes her letters, making her aware of his existence. Eventually, he makes arrangements so that she can write back as well. It's an odd relationship that develops over the years, revealed largely in the letters the two write. He admits to watching her, but never reveals his identity in person.
       This first section, sketching almost the whole affair, is fairly short, barely covering forty pages. It is followed by two sections each focussed on the other men in Thea's life, her fiancé, G.R. (who we know died in a tragic 'accident'), and Nikos Trianda. History repeats itself, but from these very different vantage points.
       Finally there's the long section devoted to Alexander Abramov -- secret agent man revealed. Here his whole life story, starting with his parents' life story, is laid out, and readers finally learn who the man behind the obsession is, what his circumstances are, and what might motivate him.
       It makes for an odd mix, and odd approach, the same territory trawled over and over (though each section adds considerably more, while the last is practically a novella all its own). The focus on the men, rather than the object of their desire, is an interesting choice, the menacing Abramov a puppet-master in near- but not complete control -- a neat trick, since the readers know who the mysterious figure lurking in so much of the background is, while G.R. and Trianda remain fairly oblivious. Thea's complicity in this complicated affairs is also intriguing, and fairly well handled.
       Tammuz is careful in the detail he offers: eventually we learn a great deal about Abramov, and Tammuz lingers over certain facts, but he is also willing to leave long blanks. Abramov's storied career is largely blurred over -- as is much about Thea. Nevertheless, Minotaur is a compelling love-story, of a very different sort, underlying passion and the obsessions of the imagination allowed to dominate, rather than simple physical encounters (though Abramov succumbs to these as well). Abramov is a spy of love, remaining behind the scenes and undercover, the game more satisfying than any consummation of the affair could be.
       Minotaur is a curious work, and not entirely satisfying, but it is certainly worthwhile.

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Minotaur: Reviews: Benjamin Tammuz: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Benjamin Tammuz was born in 1919 and died in 1989.

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