Picks and Pans Review: The Hope

updated 01/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Herman Wouk

As historical events go, the creation and evolution of the state of Israel seems an exciting candidate for dramatization. Passionate, colorful characters, from David Ben-Gurion to Moshe Dayan to Golda Meir, abound. So do memorable political conflicts, including Israel's 1948 War of Independence and the triumphant Six-Day War in 1967.

Unfortunately, Wouk, a gifted storyteller, has not mixed those ingredients into a successful novel. His fictional characters' interactions with one another and with real historical figures are often clumsy; his military maneuvers are sometimes confusing and frequently opaque. Gone is the amiable readability of Marjorie Morningstar and the taut psychological drama of The Caine Mutiny.

Still, in this, his 10th work—and first novel in eight years—Wouk has invented plenty of behind-the-scenes machinations that make for frequent page turning—as well as educational reading.

The plot, which begins at the end of World War II, is simple. Wouk presents the saga of modern Israel through the eyes of several military men and their subsequent families. Zev Barak is a soldier whose war injury eventually leads him to the ultimate desk job as military attaché in Washington. Married to a long-suffering, Moroccan-born wife who remains in Israel, Barak gets involved in a strange, never-to-be-consummated love affair with an American-born, non-Jewish old maid named Emily Cunningham.

Meanwhile, his colleague, officer Yossi Blumenthal, discovers that a single night of passion with the mistress of a famous general has lead him into a loveless but lifelong marriage.

To those interested in this sort of Peyton Place of Palestine, this lengthy (nearly 700 pages) novel is intermittently edifying and entertaining. For others, The Hope is simply hard Wouk. (Little, Brown, $24.95)

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