How can a nation that is so heavily militarised stop itself from becoming coarsened by violence? How can Israel keep its humanist ideals? Beneath the surface there are signs that Mr Yehoshua is deeply worried about Israel’s moral future: not just in the face of war against Hizbullah, for example, but in its very own soul. Mr Yehoshua’s warmest character is the old bakery owner, a man who ignores the need to sleep—he is aware enough to know there will be plenty of time to sleep once he is gone—yet who frets about doing the right thing before he dies. “I don’t want to apologise,” he says when he realises the calamity of having one of his employees go missing in a morgue. “I want to do penance.”

Mr Yehoshua’s “A Woman in Jerusalem” is a sad, warm, funny book about Israel and being Jewish, and one that has deep lessons to impart—for other people as well as his own.

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