Edward Whittemore on his balcony in Jerusalem
Photo by Helen Bar-Lev
For the comparitively few overseas publishers who visited its book fair, there were projects to pursue - Most fairgoers-indeed, most people in the local book trade were certainly not aware that they were practically rubbing shoulders with one of America's most unconventional, least classifiable writers. No surprise that they did not, for he is also one of America's least accessible, having elected quarters in what must be the ultimate retreat: a balcony flat in the compound of Jerusalem's Ethiopian Church, in a lemon grove behind that curious 19th century church-in-the-round., his neighbors are the black-robed monks of a Christian sect which sees itself linked to Judaism via the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. The monks' uncommon tenant is Edward Whittemore. Yale-educated, just turned 50, whose first novel. Quin's Shanghai Circus (1974) was a Book-of-the-Month alternate in the original Holt,. Rinehart and Winston edition, a Popular Library paperback recently reissued by Avon's Bard imprint, Whittemore has at various times been compared to Vladimir Nabokov, Carlos Fuentes, Thomas Pynchon. as well as to Lawrence Durrell of the Alexandria Quartet, for he is a decade into his own Jerusalem Quartet; actually the only thing that the two writers have in common is the sun.

Three novels of the quartet have been published so far by Holt: Sinai Tapestry (1977). Jerusalem Poker (1978) and the new Nile Shadows. of which PW's reviewer said, "one of the most complex and ambitious espionage stories ever written" Critics have called his books "cosmic'" and "fabulous" (New York Times) and have seen him as "one of the last. best arguments against television" (Harper's). The Jerusalem books can be read independently, although the main characters reappear and the mood and intensity are maintained.

The fourth and last novel of the series. which is now being written in the Ethiopian compound will be called Bernini's Bag. Some of it takes place in New York City. where Whittemore has lived, some right in the Ethiopian compound where PW's correspondent found the author.

Whittemore has lived a good part of his life outside the United States - in the Orient, in Greece and in ltaly; he came to Jerusalem to be closer to his subject matter. But he makes a point of keeping aloof from the local cultural scene, and his closest contacts are in New York. With Tom Wallace until he left Holt, now with his editor Judy Karasik there, and with agent Lois Wallace. His writing days follow Israeli office hours-8 AM-4 PM., sometimes six days a week; he finds it convenient to respect the Shabbath week-end, which begins Friday after lunch. Sunday morning, like almost everybody else in Israel, he is back at his desk-like almost everybody else in Israel except the Ethiopian monks praying as they walk around their church and the French nuns who sing like angels in their convent yard just across the road.

© Herbert R Lottman - Publishers Weekly June 1, 1983


©Anne Sydenham 2001-2016