The “black box” of the title refers to the piece of equipment carried on airplanes that provides an exact recording of what goes on in the cockpit. It is designed to help investigators determine why an airplane crashed. In this novel, the black box is the sequence of letters and telegrams exchanged by the characters that provide an account of the actions they take and the motivations for those actions. By contrast with the black box on a plane, however, these communications are always subject to revision and contradiction, so that none of the characters or the reader can be sure of what can be believed.
Oz claims that he did not start out trying to write an epistolary novel, but that the characters and the action dictated the form as it went along. Unlike some of his earlier novels, which were centered entirely on Israel, the characters in this novel go to Europe and the United States, in part a recognition of the extent to which yeridah (emigration out of Israel) has become a feature of Jewish life.
Ilana initiates the correspondence by writing to Alec, her former husband, a successful military leader turned scholar, who has made a study of fanaticism and is now living in Chicago. Ilana’s current husband, Michel, is an observant Jew, and her opening letter to Alec is full of protestations of love for Michel. The only reason she is writing her former husband, she claims, is out of concern for Boaz, the son the two had....
(The entire section is 553 words.)