Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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19
RIBALOW / ISRAEL IN AMERICAN FICTION
These are available in English so I make reference to them,
in addition of course to Yael Dayan’s English-language novels.
I also cannot omit the work of a comparative newcomer to the
English language, through translation: David Shahar, whose
works4 do not sell at all well but whose writing is exceptional.
Years ago, I wrote a lengthy literary essay on “Zion in Con-
temporary Fiction”5 which is now out of date (it was originally
written in 1952), but in which I said something that was, at the
time, quite accurate: “In retrospect what has he [the Jewish
writer] contributed to the understanding of Zionism in his role
as a creative writer? The answer is: a handful of short stories;
a smaller number of novels of Jewish life which touch, ever so
lightly, on Zionism; and most recently, some four works of
fiction which deal seriously with Israel, plus a group of novels
written in the 1930s and 1940s which, after a fashion, suggested
that at least a few Jewish writers were not entirely insensitive to
the theme which, in other spheres, had proved so overwhelm-
ing, so poetic and so astonishingly successful.”
INCREASED OUTPUT
There have been some remarkable changes since then. Fiction
on Israel, both good and bad, has proliferated. There have been
too many thrillers set in the Middle East, with Arab terrorists
and macho Israeli intelligence officers in the center of the plots.
There have been flighty romances: silly books about Hadassah
ladies visiting Israel and falling into incredible situations. There
have been high-flown “meaningful” novels with heavy symbolism.
But there also have been some fine books. For those that
appeared (together with short stories) within the first few years
of Israel’s establishment, I refer you to my earlier essay.6 Yet so
much time has elapsed since then and so many books have been
published, that it is necessary to look past the earliest years and
4
News from lerusalem,
a collection of short stories, and
The Palace of
Shattered Vessels,
the first in a five-volume series of novels, all set in
Jerusalem.
8 In
Mid-Century: An Anthology of Jewish Life and Culture in our Times,
edited by Harold U. Ribalow, published by Yoseloff in 1955.
6 The novels dealt with are Zelda Popkin’s
Quiet Street,
1951; Michael
Blankfort’s
The Juggler,
1952; Max Brod’s
Unambo,
1952; and A. M.
Klein’s
The Second Scroll,
1951. Only the first two are by Americans,
Brod being European and Klein a Canadian.