MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now to the world of college fiction. Writer Margot Singer is the latest winner of Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction from the University of Georgia Press. She won the prize for "The Pale of Settlement," a collection of linked short stories set in the Middle East. But the book takes it title from the Western borderlands of the Russian Empire, where Jews were required to live in past centuries.

Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Singer's lead story, "Helicopter Days," opens in Haifa during Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon within earshot of a bomb blast. Susan, a young Israeli-born New Yorker, has made her first solo visit to the Holy Land, which begins a long love affair between her and her family's history and a long flirtation with an Israeli cousin, Gabi(ph).

By first introducing Gabi, and then her mother, and uncles and aunts, Singer begins to create a sort of family archaeology going back to the difficult days of Israel's early Zionists, and even to the dig of a Canaanite city that was thriving during the Bronze Age. Susan's uncle, Avraham(ph), and his wife, Liya(ph), both retired archaeologists, set the tone for her own personal excavations.

In the story, "Hazor," Uncle Avraham skims through Aunt Liya's diaries while she languishes from Alzheimer's in a nursing home on the site of Deir Yassin, where during the war of independence, Jewish guerrillas once massacred Arab villagers. Writing about cuneiform tablets unearthed at a dig, Liya notes, everything depended on a few lines etched in red-brown clay, a scratch made by a human hand, the impression of a wedge.

Susan pays equally careful attention to the sources of her own past, unearthing stories of Israeli soldiers in shock, unfaithful wives and unsettled expatriates, even going so far as to raise questions about her own paternity.

The triumph of Singer's "The Pale of Settlement" is that we enjoy the questions as much as any answers that might appear.

NORRIS: The book is "The Pale of Settlement" by Margot Singer. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. His latest work of fiction is called "The Fires."

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