Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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an attempt to grapp le with the de sp a ir that b rou gh t his mother to
take her life, Oz has written penetrating portra its o f women. T h e
nihilism and defiance implied by suicide, particu larly in a f led g ­
ling country strugg ling to em erge , has m ade his women the most
p ro found critics o f Zionism and Israel.
Woman is seen as the emotional, idiosyncratic touchstone again
in the mo ther-figure o f David Sh ah a r ’s “His Majesty’s A gen t” and
Yitzhak O rp az ’ “T om ozh enna T a le s .” “ H is Majesty ’s A g en t”
(admittedly one o f Sh ah a r ’s weaker books in comparison to his
triology “Palace o f Shattered Vesse ls” ), weaves a story o f military
and sexual exp loits over a period o f thirty years from World War
II to the Yom K ippu r War. At the same time Shahar bu ilds into
his narrative a foil to this male world in the figure o f the n a r ra to r ’s
idiosyncratic mother. C losing h erse lf o f f in a room with a cracked
m irror she dresses up before it living out her own fantasies.
Shahar ’s story implies that this is what reflects real value. It lies
not in the external world o f power but in the interstices o f life, the
inner world, and its distorting m irror o f art. Th e idiosyncratic
mother, literally throwing money out o f the window, de fie s the
father ’s world o f banking , the respectability and conventionality
o f life, much as H annah in a much more forcefu l demon ic m an ­
ner in “My Michael” underm ines Michael’s stable academ ic world
and Batya in “T h e Hollow Stone” challenges the normalcy o f the
We have in Yitzhak O rpaz ’ “Tom ozh enna T a le s” a lyrical story
about childhood in Eastern Eu rope , ano ther exam p le o f the
idiosyncratic mo ther as symbol o f the artist living in her own
world flaun ting the mores and conventions o f the society a round
her. She lives in a fantasy world d ream in g o f the re turn o f a
form er lover who will take her o f f to Eretz Yisrael, the object o f all
yearnings. Like Shahar , O rpaz ’s young n arrator aligns h im self
with the idiosyncratic, romantic mother and treks daily with her
to the outskirts o f town to await the redemption o f love.
Notw ithstanding the richness o f their idiosyncratic women,
Shahar and O rpaz , like many other Israeli writers, also dep ict
women in narrow sexua l terms. In Sh ah a r ’s “His Majesty A gen t”
we see both sides o f the Israeli writer. On the one hand , there is
the eccentric mother, the extension o f the artist, and on the other,