“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!
This week we celebrate the writer Benjamin Tammuz and his unexpectedly romantic spy-thriller from 1981, Minotaur. On the occasion of the novel’s 2006 re-release, Paul La Farge wrote, “The subject of the novel is love: hopeless, romantic, absolute.” Yet Tammuz doesn’t make it easy for readers. “Minotaur‘s subject is the kind of love that exists between writer and reader, between writer and writer; the book is a love letter from a hard-bitten man from a faraway country,” La Farge continued. “The question is: Will we be seduced? The novel puts formidable obstacles in our path.”
It makes sense that Tammuz crafted this story, the most successful of his eight novels, as a challenge. Born July 11, 1919, in Russia, Tammuz studied at the Sorbonne and then moved to Israel, where he was a leader of the now-defunct Canaanite movement, whose followers sought a Hebrew, rather than Jewish, state. A prolific author, much of his writing chronicled pioneer life in pre-1948 Palestine. It’s not a stretch, then, to see Tammuz himself as the hard-bitten man from a distant land.
And yes, his last name is also a month. And, rather coincidentally, the 17th of Tammuz, a day of general mourning and the beginning of the solemn three-week period before Tisha B’Av, falls this year on July 19, the date of Tammuz’s death from cancer in 1989, at the age of 70.
Read The Spy Who Loved Me, by Paul La Farge