Susan Gerhart, Nederland. “While all literature touches on the question of identity, for Israeli authors the question has become an obsession. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, writers have reflected the tumultuous history of their country and have attempted to understand the emergence of an Israeli identity, and its manifestation in the broader canvas of Jewish culture.” Unknown.
Israeli literature has long been one of my favorite fiction sub-genres, and I follow the works of the following three authors closely.
David Grossman was born in Israel, the child of Polish immigrants. He is a left-wing peace activist, and his books reflect this. His younger son, Uri, was killed in Lebanon in 2006, a casualty of the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The Falling Out Time is a celebration of Uri’s life.
In Grossman’s most recent book, A Horse Walks into a Bar, Dov Greenstein is a stand-up comedian on the downslide, working in dives. The whole story takes place in one night as Dov’s story turns into a memoir of his childhood terrors, which hit home to one audience member. In this book, Grossman continues his study of how people cope with life’s unpredictable beat downs. A warning, or perhaps, an enticement: some of the jokes are blue.
Amos Oz was born in Jerusalem, the son of a Lithuanian father and Polish mother who immigrated to Palestine. He is a vocal supporter of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His latest book, Judas, takes place in 1959 in Jerusalem. Shmuel Ash is a biblical scholar writing his dissertation on the Jews and Jesus when his life falls apart. His girlfriend leaves him for another man, his father declares bankruptcy and is no longer able to support his studies, and his advisor tells him that his subject matter has been done to death.
In his retreat from life, Shmuel takes a job as a caretaker for Gershom Wald, a cantankerous old man. Included in his salary is a room in the house where Gershom lives with his widowed daughter-in-law. Shmuel and Gershom engage in conversations about the creation and existence of Israel that cover all sides of the pro and con arguments. Shmuel broods over the older, but still very attractive, daughter-in-law. A love story, a coming-of-age story, and the story of Israel, this is a beautiful and beautifully written book.
A.B Yehoshua is from a family of Sephardic Jews who have lived in Jerusalem for five generations. He is an Israeli peace activist and critic of the Palestinian occupation. One of my favorite works is Yehoshua’s A Woman in Jerusalem, which is one of the most compassionate and humanitarian books I have ever read.
Yehoshua is a master storyteller, and his latest, The Extra, is no exception. The protagonist Noga is a harpist in an orchestra in the Netherlands. She is forty-two and divorced from a man who still loves her. When she is called home after the death of her mother, she finds work as an extra in television, movies, and opera. With the change in her identity and without the insulation of her music, Noga discovers new things about herself and her history.
Reading the works of Israeli authors provides a look into the lives of the people behind the stories we read in the news, how they got to where they are now, and where they would like the future to take them.
See you around the stacks.