Page 70 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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The New Israeli Novelists
h e
srael i
no v e l ist
tries to make sense of his society. Whereas
lyric poetry can directly relate the poet to himself, or to the Ab­
solute, the novel is firmly located within the social world. Israel
is an unusual case, not only because it has achieved statehood
so recently, but also because it is, in the main, an immigrant
society which yet claims a basic relationship to the geographical
location in the Middle East as a source of nationhood. Thus the
Israeli is in a situation of perplexity, unable to take his roots
for granted as other nationals might do, and constantly having
to define his connection with the country and the outside world,
and then refine any original definition. A given society is al­
ways a difficult thing to grasp, as the novelist rooted in a social
context must grasp it. Israeli society has been additionally prob­
lematic, constantly changing its contours; new, yet historically
ancient; multicoloured, unstratified in the way of other more
static nations, but still challenging the novelist to offer his de­
scription and characterization. The Israeli novelist must also
place himself, as individual, within the map that he draws.
The writers of the generation of the State, i.e. of that genera­
tion which grew to adult awareness within the Israeli frame­
work, were self-consciously “Israeli.” A previous generation of
Hebrew writers had deliberately sought out Israel, had acquired
the Israeli landscape, had reshaped their learned Hebrew in ac­
cordance with the demands of a contemporary literary language.
They were foreigners fulfilling an ideological imperative, aware
of the problematic nature of their situation. The new writers
were not selecting an option. They were, on the whole, grow­
ing up within Israel naturally, speaking Hebrew as their first
language, and for the first time in centuries (as Hebrew writers),
writing the language they were speaking. They lacked the layers
of Hebrew literacy of which earlier Hebrew had been built. But
they felt they could compensate with a new, ingrown familiarity,