Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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p iceh and ler
— I
sr a e l i
o v e l ist s
3 7
tender or consoling word for her). He lacks the warmth of youth.
His intelligence is nothing but the cheap craftiness of a little
beast of prey. He appears to be rootless, even in his own village.
For him farming is merely dust, heat and hell; a horse, merely
the stench of manure and sweat; a cow, a stinking carcass. He
seems to have no other ambition in life beyond the desire to perch
cockily at the wheel of a tractor, catch a movie, or squeeze a girl's
breasts. Even his erotic ebullience lacks the verve of a young buck.
He satisfies his appetites w ithout any moral compunctions.”
Difference between Generations
As Shamir records it, the difference between the first and second
(Sabra) generation of halutzim is startling. A lthough he avoids
all ideological discussions, it is apparent that U r i ’s father is an
ideologist, a committed, mature Zionist socialist. The flashbacks
of his career in Teheran as a Zionist agent in charge of moving
refugee youths to Palestine and his willingness to argue or talk
ideology, testify to his single-minded devotion to cause. Not so
the son. To him the kibbutz is merely home. Even his sense of
duty to the Palmach is non-ideological, almost resigned. “In some
corner, the devil knows where, a note w ritten somewhere is
waiting for you and you know that i t ’s the real thing. So to­
morrow you go to do a job and a few never come back . .
When pressed to explain his motives, Uri is reduced to “W e ll,
the gang is all in it,” or “I don’t want anybody else to protect
me or fight for me.”
It is noteworthy that U ri never revolts against “the older folks,”
never condemns them for his inadequacies. He merely accepts
the fact that his world is quite different from theirs and leaves it
at that. U ri as a character seems to be a confirmation of that
mythical, healthy, non-complaining goyishe Jew anticipated by
certain Herzlian Zionists.
When Dr. Simon Halkin was in New York in 1948, he tried to
interest a publisher in Shamir’s novel. He failed. According to
Benjamin Michali, the Israeli critic who reports this story, a
number of “readers” who were asked to evaluate the book gave
the following reason for rejecting it: “It is rea lly good writing.
It contains the proper ingredients—young men, heroes, war, love,
exceptional descriptive paragraphs, good structure. But some­
thing is missing. W e did not expect that kind of novel. An im­
portant element is absent, an element which should have been
central. Here is an historical people fighting for its independence.
Yet this broad historical perspective serves merely as a backdrop
for the personal motives of an individual who has gone to war.”
This judgment applies to all the war novels of the young school.
The absence of ideology makes the Israeli war novel just another