Page 35 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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HALKIN / THE CASE OF THE IMPOSSIBLE MOONS
23
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985), I discovered an even more
egregious lunar blunder, one involving a full moon again. This
time it was that of Tu bi-Shevat, the traditional Hebrew Arbor
Day, which in Oz’s novel is seen overhead in the noonday sky by a
group of lunchtime picnickers. Glimpsed through the branches
of the olive tree beneath which they are sitting, it appears to one
of them . . frightened and strange-looking — indeed, almost
sickly. The shaggy olive trees surrounded it as though it were a
pale Jewish fiddler caught in a ring of rough peasants somewhere
in the distant lands of Eastern Europe.”
A striking, Chagallesque image — and one that, as we shall see,
plays an important role in the novel. Yet it is also one that defies
the laws of nature, for, as a moment’s reflection makes clear, no
full moon can ever be seen overhead in the middle of the day.
Indeed, just as the moon when full must rise at most latitudes a
short while after sunset, so it must set the following morning a
short while after sunrise and cannot conceivable be observed
high in the sky many hours later.
And so, in each of two seemingly realistic Hebrew novels, each
abounding in a wealth of carefully rendered naturalistic detail,
we find an impossible moon. A mere freakish coincidence ? Or
one that tells us something significant both about the books in
question and the fictional genre to which they belong? To answer
such a question, it is necessary to reflect a bit on the history of the
modern Hebrew novel as a whole.
ZIONIST ORIENTATION
Practically from its beginnings modern Hebrew fiction as it de­
veloped in Eastern Europe was allied with the movement of cul­
tural and political nationalism that came to be known as Zionism.
In this it was not unique, since other European literatures in
modern times took their first steps too in conjunction with na­
tionalist awakenings. What was special about the case of Hebrew
was not its association with such a cause but rather its dependence
on it to ensure its own survival. One could write novels in Czech
or Norwegian without fearing that, should the Czech or Norwe­
gian national movements fail, there would be no one left to read
them; yet a Hebrew author had no such confidence, for he knew
well that the small readership for Hebrew letters that existed in
his day could survive, let alone increase, only if the Hebrew re­