Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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HAROLD U. RIBALOW
Israel in American Fiction
I t
is
b e s t
t o
b e g i n
without indulging in overstatement or
exaggeration. The quality of American fiction about Israel, in
the novel and the short story, is not overly impressive. The
most imaginative, informative, instructive and readable fiction
has not come from the United States, but quite naturally, from
Israel.
It is not, I suggest, solely a matter of language. For example,
translations are often stilted, inaccurate and minus the special
qualities of the gifted novelist writing in his or her own Ian-
guage. There is always the advantage of writing from the inside
rather than as an observer. So it isn’t language alone. Some of
the best Israeli fiction has been produced by a sabra writing
in English, not Hebrew. I refer to Yael Dayan, the author of
four novels about contemporary Israeli life.1 Unhappily, she
seems to have ceased writing fiction, but her books are con-
cerned with themes and conflicts in Israel which scarcely could
be imagined by any outsider. She, like others, creates from
within the society. It can make an enormous difference.
If I were asked to recommend novels and short stories about
Israel and its people, I would not think initially of American
work. Instead, I would suggest the novels and tales of A. B.
Yehoshua
(Three Days as a Child
and
Early in the Summer of
1970);
the fiction of Amos Oz (including
My Michael; Else
-
where Perhaps; Unto Death; Touch the Water, Touch the
Wind;
and
The H ill of Evil Counsel2)
; the surrealistic novels of
Yoram Kaniuk
(The Acrophile; Himmo, King of Jerusalem;
Adam Resurrected
and, most recently,
Rockinghorse*).
1
New Face in the Mirror; Envy the Frightened; Dust; Death Had Two Sons,
2 Martin Peretz, editor of
The New Republic,
wrote on March 4, 1978, of
Oz’s current volume of three tales, especially one of them, “Longing”: “It
evokes comparison with Turgenev’s
Diary of Superfluous Man
and Tol-
stoy’s
Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Even by these standards, Oz is an extra•
ordinary writer, indeed.”
3
Rockinghorse,
upon publication, prompted a lengthy appraisal of all of
Kaniuk’s work in the
New York Review of Books.
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