James D(ouglas) Forman Mitchel Levitas - Essay

Mitchel Levitas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Taking history for his source and a lean narrative technique for his method, James Forman has written a convincing contemporary novel ["My Enemy, My Brother"] that probably will better inform many of today's 16-year-olds about a slice of the recent past than miles of miles of microfilm on spools in the school library.

As in history, the cast of principal characters is small; and, if Dan's adventures often seem melodramatic, it may be because younger readers have no way of knowing that thousands of displaced persons followed the same path as the boy, from the suddenly open gates of the concentration camp to an exhausting and perilous trek through much of Europe to the shores of British-occupied Palestine. Like his hero, Forman is no propagandist for Israel. The place is simply a refuge, a haven to which Arabs (who occupied the land for thousands of years) have some claim. Dan's closest friend—before the 1948 war divides them—is Said, an Arab shepherd boy his own age. As the novel ends, Arab and Jew are preparing for the second round of battle in 1956. At this point, however, the plot seriously falters. The focus abruptly switches to Said, now a member of the Arab Legion. Dan Baratz is left in limbo, apparently having served the author's purpose—and history's.

Mitchel Levitas, "For Young Readers: 'My Enemy, My Brother'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 25, 1969, p. 32.