Plague Echoes of Conflict in Israel - three novellas By M.K.Moulton Millennium Ayalon Press 418 pp. NIS 55 ($15.00) Although these three novellas are self-contained, they are all located in a small town near Haifa and the protagonist is an observer rather than a participant. In "It Doesn't End" and "Like a Winter Without Rain," the narrator is a retired teacher and former communist journalist, an immigrant from Chicago. She has set herself deadlines over her many years of widowhood and is now writing a novel. She is a friend of the mayor and although she has been involved in municipal affairs, has her own apartment in the picturesque town of Kfar Degan and has a son in the army, she appears to be the storyteller rather than an active participant in the conflicts related. The stories are disturbingly realistic; there is no escapism in this book and the conflict is not resolved at the end of the story. "It Doesn't End" is a battle of wits between Alec, the mayor, and Barak, the chairman of the Labor Party. There is a test of loyalties among the town's leaders as news comes of the abduction of Barak's soldier son on the Gaza border. There is the too-familiar scenario of a village where one home is in the spotlight. Irrespective of their political affiliations, the people gather to support the parents bringing food and drink. But even while the bottomless coffee pot is passed around and the media besiege the house for news, the people are torn between their desire to get the soldier home and their fears of releasing convicted terrorists. When villagers, some of whom have lost loved ones in acts of terror, plead with Barak to make a statement against the release of prisoners, he rebukes them: "Every one of you would open every door if you could get your loved one home alive." Through the squabbling and infighting that plagues every decision-making and governing body, the question constantly arises: Is it worth it? Are the remains of a tattered democracy worth sending our children into danger? While the top of the agenda is to bring the soldier home, the more prosaic needs of a community provoke a heated argument as there are demands to remove a potentially dangerous traffic divider on the access road to Haifa. "Like a Winter Without Rain" does have an end that is terrifying in its despair and lack of hope. The same mayor, Alec, observed by his American friend, is mediating a difference of opinion in the municipality about including the local Arab village in a proposed three-town industrial center. The local Hebrew newspaper reporter is seen everywhere. Considered the village whore, she is not taken seriously, but she has connections that give her access to people and information and a personal agenda that results in the greatest tragedy to befall the town. Her family owns much of the property in the Haifa industrial area, and by provoking tensions between Kfar Degan and the Arab village, which was in general on good terms with its neighbors, she is hoping to destroy that alliance sufficiently to sabotage the emergence of a joint industrial center. We do not know the nature of the industry proposed but if it would extend the appalling pollution caused by the heavy industry in Haifa Bay, one would have thought that all the villages on the outskirts would have wished to avoid it. For the bay with its sweeping coastline, which in other countries would have been preserved as a glorious Riviera resort, is today the source of the country's worst pollution with all its resulting health hazards. The mayor, a former IDF officer who also served in Internal Security, has his following because he is trying to put right the years of corruption by the previous mayor and improve the economy of the region. For the same reasons, he has his enemies and these same opponents also disagree with his coexistence policies. But it is the sinister hidden agenda of the newspaper reporter that goads them into attacking the Arab village, resulting in retaliations, a high death toll and destruction of any hope for building the economy together. "Don't Sin Against the Truth" is also narrated in the first person by a native of Chicago, this time Stuart, the middle-aged cousin of the present mayor, Eli. He visits their home in Kfar Degan to attend the funeral of a mutual cousin and stays for the rest of the year. Again he is the observer although he enrolls in the Home Guard, enthusiastically looks for abandoned bags under every bench and appears to be in the confidence of the mayor and his old army comrade Gershon, who is national head of the Home Guard. Set after the Second Lebanon War, the municipality and the Home Guard are trying to show that they are renovating and reinforcing public shelters and support systems to avoid the shame of this war when citizens of the North spent almost a month without adequate shelter or provisions. The mayor is seen rolling up his sleeves and cleaning out the shelters together with the workers. However, the success of reassuring the public and the efforts to wipe out the rocket launchers is a camouflage for the fact that there is no immediate solution to the danger of long-range missiles on the storage containers of hazardous materials in the bay. Throughout the book there are beautiful descriptions of the old-time atmosphere in this small town, the one main street with its coffee shops and small privately owned groceries and the magnificent background of the mountains and forests. There is a feeling of the seasons, the awakening of spring, the breathless waiting for rain in the winter. However, the town seems to be entirely populated with old-timers, many of whom were born there, and this is not typical of any other place in Israel. We do not hear the accents of immigrants, apart from our protagonists, nor is there evidence of their cultural influence or otherwise on the town. Muriel Moulton lives in a small town which is perhaps the model for Kfar Degan. After her aliya from Chicago in 1978, she taught English at the University of Haifa. Her articles and poems are published abroad and in Israel. Her first book was a Holocaust story, A Prayer for Gershon Levin. More details about her work can be found at: http://www.m-k-moulton.com. The reviewer is a freelance journalist and poet and author of Life After Birth: Everywoman's Experiences of the First Year of Motherhood and the anthology, The Soldiers' Mother.