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September 2001
 
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THE JERUSALEM QUARTET by Edward Whittemore

Out of print for 15 years, Edward Whittemore's Jerusalem Quartet (1979-1986) is an essential part of Fantasy's shadow cabinet, a government-in-exile. Surely in some parallel universe, Sinai Tapestry, Jerusalem Poker, Nile Shadows, and Jericho Mosaic constitute more than just a loyal opposition.

Whittemore wedded the tradition of the American tall tale and the Arabian Nights to nothing less than History itself. In the process, he created a unique tapestry of absurdly tragic, larger-than-life characters who, placed against the backdrop of historical events, appear life-size. However, despite the complexity of the Quartet's many interrelated stories, the narrative always returns to the exploits of a man named Stern. The idealistic Stern tries to use his wealth to bring peace to the Middle East but ends his days running guns.

In the most ambitious book, Jerusalem Poker, the plot is driven by the amazing conceit of a 12-year poker game (1921-1933) for control of the Holy City. A man who may or may not be seven thousand years old and a 33-volume study of Levantine sex also feature prominently.

Whittemore's Jerusalem Quartet-especially Sinai Tapestry and Jerusalem Poker-displays an almost unparalleled scope and sense of invention. Some blame Whittemore's obscurity on a stubborn refusal to use quotation marks for dialogue; others, on spurious comparisons to Thomas Pynchon. Regardless, readers who discover The Quartet and Whittemore's first novel, Quin's Shanghai Circus, will delight in the author's fertile imagination and subversive sense of humor.

—Jeff VanderMeer

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