Zvi Arbel is an Israeli historian whose chosen field is Jewish history. His work is read by the Yiddish poet Foiglman, a Holocaust survivor who sends Arbel a volume of his own poetry. The relationship that springs up between the two men is one of ambivalence and fascination; the reserved Israeli historian alternatingly sympathetic and suspicious, affectionate and resentful, towards the enthusiastic but tormented poet. Despite his ambivalence, Arbel embarks on an effort to get Foiglman's poetry translated into Hebrew. As Foiglman begins to monopolize more and more of his time, the relationship drives a wedge between Arbel and his wife that leads to tragedy.
This intense novel balances biology and archeology, history and poetry in a compelling and poignant portrait of the confrontation of two intimately linked cultures: the Israeli, Hebrew-speaking, born to freedom and independence, and the 'Yid', the Jew whose language is Yiddish, who celebrates and mourns the vibrant, destroyed communities of pre-Holocaust Europe and wonders at the transformation of the people he once knew, now they have a land of their own.