Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
war novel, and the modern nihilistic war novel had already been
done to death by the European novelists of the twenties. It is not
to be wondered that very quickly both w riter and audience grew
bored. Fascinating and traumatic as the war experience had been
for both, enough was enough. By the early fifties there was much
talk in critical circles about the crisis in theme.
Approximately at that time Shamir attempted his historical
novel Melech Basar Vadam (“A King of Flesh and B lood”), a
tour de force which enjoyed good sales but hard ly reflected the
main stream of this school. It remained for another novelist,
Chanoch Bartov, to shift to a more representative theme. Moshe,
the hero of Bartov’s novel, Haheshbon Vehanefesh (“The Ac­
counting and the Soul”), is a genuinely “angry young man,” one
of those literary characters who began cropping up in both Euro­
pean and American letters during the fifties and whose work was
so well described by W a lte r A llen : “A new hero has risen among
us. Is he the intellectual tough or the tough intellectual? He is
consciously, even conscientiously, graceless. His face, when not
dead pan, is set in a snarl of exasperation. He has one skin too
few, but his is not the sensitiveness of the young man in earlier
20th century fiction; it is the phoney to which his nerve ends are
tremblingly exposed, and at the least suspicion of the phoney he
goes tough. He is at odds with his conventional university educa­
tion . . .” A llen traces the introduction of this new stock character
to John W a in ’s novel Hurry on Down (1953). Bartov ’s character,
incidentally, antedates W a in ’s.
Early in Haheshbon Vahanefesh, one of its characters has the
following to say about the crisis of theme:
“Since the war ended the bookstores have been flooded w ith
a new type of literature. Week after week I come across such a
new book and always it is about the same subject: the war dead
. . . our dear dead boys, as every book proclaims, and every book
is like the other—biographies, eulogies by parents, teachers and
friends and often the words of the dead themselves. . . . A fte r
finishing one of the books I asked myself, let us suppose that they
did not die—that they lived, what would have happened to them,
what would they have done? W ou ld this lousy world have been
better?”
The World of the Ex-Soldier
Bartov’s novel is a post-war novel describing the “lousy w o r ld”
the soldier citizen found upon his return to civilian life. These
Israeli Road Backs begin to appear after 1952 and their theme
is disillusionment w ith the post-war state.
Moshe is a would-be novelist who flees from post-war Israel
disgusted with the careerism and the normalcy which overtook
the new state. Zionism and socialism have lost all meaning for