Page 41 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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p iceh and ler
— I
sr ae l i
o v e l ist s
3 5
the twenties of this century is finally resolved. Its technical vo­
cabulary, too, is more than adequate. Yizhar, and to a lesser
degree his colleagues, take an almost schoolboy’s delight in the
verbal agility of their new Hebrew. Of greater significance is
Yizhar’s use of the interior monologue. In this story he has not
yet evolved the studied confusion of the later stream of con­
sciousness technique.
Age of Disillusionment
“Ephraim Returns to A lfa lfa ,” despite its implied criticism
o f the kibbutz and the motives of men, is a healthy-minded story.
Its characters are decent, well-meaning people. To this extent
it does not at all reflect the dark pessimism which was soon to
permeate native Hebrew prose writing. By 1944, however, the
age of disillusionment had arrived. It was then that a group of
young radicals began publishing a short-lived avant garde peri­
odical which they called Yalkut Reim (“Comrades’ Knapsack”).
Characteristically, the volume closes with a translation of a letter
Thomas W o lfe wrote to his mother, in which he insisted that
“Life, life, only life has significance.” The choice of this quota­
tion indicates that these young writers, having lost faith in
humanistic values, found refuge from the angst of their age by
submerging themselves in the sheer biology of living. The choice
of W o lfe as mentor also reflects the growing influence of modern
American prose on new Israeli writers. The older writers read
the Russians, the French and the Germans; the new writers read
the Americans and particularly Americans of the hard-boiled
school. This shift of interest cannot be attributed merely to the
accident which made English the ranking foreign language of
mandatory Palestine. The American writers had a view of life
which appealed to these new authors.
Yigaal Mosensohn’s first and frigh tfu lly banal story Le il Stav
(“Autumn Night”) is typical of the works which appeared in this
little magazine. It takes us into the mind of a furloughed soldier
who had murdered his wife driven into prostitution because of
their poverty. In “Autumn Night” a taxi-driver philosophizes:
“Life, buddy, is a pile of filth . . . so i f you get a chance to fill
your belly, fi ll it; if you meet a married woman play the adulterer;
if you meet a virgin take her. T h a t ’s life, buddy, and don’t trust
nobody, not even your old man.” These phrases are common­
place enough in Western literature, but such blatant cynicism
and sexuality were rather new in the Hebrew literature of the
1940 ’s. W ith the arriva l of the Sabra author “the lid was off.”
Moshe Sham ir’s first story—which appeared in the same issue—
is characteristically steeped in uninhibited biologism; every p ri­
vate member is called by its name, its every-day name at that.
Mankind—for these young men—is sunk in the cesspool of evil
and wallows in filthy loneliness. Moreover, evil is not confined