Book Review: Minotaur by Benjamin Tammuz

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Whilst in Rome I stumbled onto a very special looking bookshop – Liberia Minimum Fax on Via Della Lungaretta for those interested – that had me lamenting my lack of Italian. A small corner of English books were all I had but that soon proved sufficient because I’d never seen/heard of those authors before. Minotaur instantly piqued my interest – mythological name for a clearly un-mythological book and not something as cheesy as “Aphrodite” or “Helen of Troy” (no offence to such titles though).

Minotaur by Benjamin Tammuz is a series of sporadic letters interspersed with paragraphs of prose narrating events. On his forty-first birthday an Israeli secret agent encounters a girl that he immediately recognizes as the love of his life that he has loved forever. Through letters he begins to write anonymously to her, drawing her in, ensuring himself to be part of her life from then on. As the book wears on, turns of events reveal the depth of his feeling for her & her for him, and the lengths he takes (or that he appears to take?) to control her existence.

I must confess – when I first realized they were letters, I was instantly disappointed because I have yet to read good letters in books. Nevertheless I persevered on and was instantly drawn in. (Also most of the book is in non-lettered prose despite its beginnings) The book is divided into four chapters and for the first part, the reader is given a false sense of omniscience since we start from the secret agent’s point of view. We think we know. Flipping the pages to continue on to the next chapter, I suddenly felt disoriented and there is the sense of certain subtle underpinnings that make you realize that perhaps you as a reader were being manipulated as well, much in the same way as girl has been. Tammuz weaves in underlying twists that at times you don’t even realize.

Despite being an avid reader with the rather annoying habit of not being able to put a book down once I start reading, Minotaur proved to be an exception. And I think no lesser of the book. Tammuz tends to present things in a matter-of-fact tone that appear light at first read, only hitting you with full gravity of his words when you realize what they portend. Such a style seems reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s adult short stores – Lamb to the Slaughter anyone? It is because of said gravity that I find myself having to rest in between pages to prevent myself from being overwhelmed by the hidden intensity behind his words. Minotaur is a book enhanced by pauses to think and process in between pages. It is not a book you rush through to the end to find out what happens. Doing so causes the book to lose its intricacy and complexity that Tammuz does so well.

I would love to delve further into analysis of his book but I fear revealing spoilers. Minotaur is definitely a read well worth your money & time. In time to come I will most certainly be picking it up again to puzzle out the meaning behind the title.

Nichola Koh

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