Page 122 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
their ultimate despair: Goldman commits suicide, and as in uncle
Peretz’ case, this is his only way to declare his freedom. Caesar,
who indulges in nihilistic hedonism, reaches total moral bank­
ruptcy; in fact, he may be regarded as committing spiritual
suicide, for in his opinion, life is but a sort o f “a happy suicide.”
And Israel, the musician who wishes to be an artist, becomes com­
pletely alienated and burned out as an artist as he sinks into an
existence akin to death. There is almost no love, of any sort, to be
found. Everywhere one can see only broken relationships and
lack of communication. Goldman and Caesar are both divorced.
Israel’s relationship with his girlfriend is tantamount to divorce.
Both Goldman and Caesar are estranged from their respective
families, especially their fathers. The only people with whom
they have a common language are uncles who are odd and up ­
rooted like themselves. Thus, for instance, Goldman’s absorption
with the life of the astronomer Johann Kepler and his preoccupa­
tion with translating Kepler’s
Somnium
— a science-fiction type of
book about a trip to the moon — is echoed in uncle Lazar’s in ter­
est in astronomy. Caesar’s solitary existence is m irrored in the im­
age o f his uncle Besh, the sworn bachelor. Alienation is paralleled
and amplified by minor characters and by various incidents. It
reaches perhaps its highest point at the book’s end when Israel’s
girlfriend turns her head away from her newborn baby. Though
the novel’s concern is chiefly with the uprootedness o f the indi­
vidual in the universal sense, Shabtai depicts here a realistic pic­
ture o f Tel-Aviv and o f the whole social class o f the Histadruth
(the Labor Federation) in its stage o f stagnancy. As the critic Dan
Miron has commented, “A total organism as well as each single
protagonist is on the brink of disintegration.”
BETWEEN LAND AND PROMISE
Uprootedness is unmistakably a major theme throughou t
Yitzhak Ben-Ner’s literary work. Obvious in such an early short
story as “Ha-Migdal” (The Tower, 1959), where the protagonist is
forever the thirty-first soldier in a unit limited to thirty soldiers, it
is also the conspicuous feature of most characters in his recent
bulky novel
Protocol
(1983). The novel’s chief protagonist — a
double agent who was apparently sent by the “Com intern” to the
Middle East — is depicted as unable to commit himself to one
country, one language, one home, or one love. He sees his place