I was twelve years old when what I'm about to tell you took place. Today, sixteen years later, I still recall the pounding of my heart as I heard the approaching footsteps of the bully of Heidelberg University. Above me on the bed sat Heinrich Rosenthal, a little man, seventy years old, with a big white mane of hair, but under the bed I was very much alone, and I remember thinking in those moments of suspense, Mom's right, maybe I should go out and make friends my own own age instead of always hanging around by myself or with weird people like Mr Rosenthal. So begins an intriguing tale of friendship between an extraordinarily beguiling boy and an old man with a past - a history that shapes the plot of Duel and cleverly unfurls in the way real stories do between friends. David and Mr Rosenthal are generations apart in age but equally brave, equally stubborn and each as unique for their years as the other.
A 12-year-old helps a septuagenarian friend weather a potentially deadly misunderstanding in this brief, reflective import, winner of a British prize for translated works. His mother may disapprove, but David enjoys being around old people-particularly a spry, sharp photographer named Heinrich. That pleasure turns to horror, however, when a furious rival from a decades-old love affair accuses Heinrich of theft, and, of all things, challenges him to a duel. For complex reasons, Heinrich accepts, leaving David to search frantically for a way to head off the impending tragedy. Even though he casts David as an adult looking back on the incident, Grossman cranks up the suspense with frequent cuts back and forth in time, plus side meditations on growing up, and growing old; in the end, David does find a way to head off the stiff-necked duelists, and the episode even kindles new friendships. Set in Jerusalem in the mid-1960s, this doesn't have the broad-or, for that matter, child-appeal of Daniella Carmi's Samir and Yonatan (2000), but it's refreshing to have a tale in which the city's people loom larger than its issues. (Fiction. 11-13) (Kirkus Reviews)