Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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Yizhar undertakes to grapple w ith this problem in his mam­
moth and controversial novel “The Days of Ziklag,” adverted
to earlier in this paper. Here is a massive attempt to describe
the second generation Israeli and to exp lain the fa ilu re of
ideology. In order to do so, Yizhar decided to re tu rn to the war
theme rather than to use a more contemporary setting. He skil­
fu lly eliminated two disturbing elements which spoiled most
Sabra novels—the great historical event and the incongruous
incursion of landscape description which, though beautiful in
themselves, were never integrated into the story. Both elements
had served as convenient escape hatches for the imperfect artist
who became entangled in problems of character and p lo t develop­
ment.
A lthough he writes about the war, Yizhar excludes the externa l
political-historical element by choosing a re lative ly unknown and
insignificant battle and by lim iting the scope of his story to a
seven day period. He solves the problem of landscape by tu rning
the landscape into a major factor (I was going to say a m a jo r
character) in the novel. It becomes integral to the plot.
Yizhar’s story is deliberately confined to a very simple scheme.
He tells how a platoon of soldiers takes a h ill, loses it in battle,
retakes it and holds it against an enemy counterattack. He
requires 1,143 pages to tell his story. By use of this bare skeleton
he is able to concentrate on character, time and ideology. As a
result he has w ritten a major novel, at least for Hebrew literatu re.
The Symbolism of Yizhar3s Story
Symbol plays a leading role in Yizhar’s story. Even the title
has symbolic meaning. Shortly after the h i ll is taken Barzilai,
the archaeological enthusiast, suggests that it may very well be
the site of biblical Ziklag. He soon discovers he was probably
mistaken, but the soldiers continue to call it Ziklag. Yizhar is
trying to say that our modern Ziklag, modern Israel, is a mis­
nomer or at least questionable. Yet in a vague way it is not,
because we by common consent invoke its historical name. The
whole problem of Jewish continuity is thus compressed w ith in
the title of his work. On a more universal level, he seems to be
saying that the accepted address of modern man is also misnamed
or at least inaccurate.
The landscape, too, is symbolic. Unlike the landscape in
Sham ir’s novels, it is not fam iliar and friend ly bu t foreign and
hostile. Ziklag’s h i ll is the craggy, barren, forsaken and timeless
landscape of the Negev. The tiny band of soldiers is lost, con­
fused and frightened. They find it difficult to relate to this hostile
landscape and to ascribe meaning to their pathetic situation. T h e
landscape can be modern life, detached and hostile to meaning;
it can mean barrenness and death; it can refer to God and evens