Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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stand for the different strands of the collective psyche of a people
goes at least as far back as the novels of Dostoyevsky or a book like
The Scarlet Letter.
What was true of the early Hebrew novel,
however, is that such a treatment, in which not only fictional
characters, but the elements of the physical world that surrounds
them, lead a potentially double life, once as themselves and once
as pointers to other, more generalized forces, is an especially
dominant mode — and this is particularly the case with fiction
written in Palestine in the decades before the establishment of a
Jewish state. Indeed, so small and intimate was the society of the
Yishuv, yet the subject of such momentous historical events, that
it was often the felt experience of those living in it that each act
and moment of their lives had a supra-personal import that made
it somehow greater than itself and a reference to powers beyond
Both Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua were born in Palestine,
were children at the time of the establishment of the State of
Israel, and have drawn in their work upon bodies of experience
vastly different from those of the European-born Hebrew writ­
ers of earlier generations. It is a testimony, therefore, not only to
the persistent problematics of Zionism and Jewish history, which
have lost none of their keen edge in Israel today, but to the tenac­
ity of forms within a literary tradition as well, that both of these
men have written much of their fiction in the vein of symbolic
realism — and never so strikingly as in their two most recent nov­
On the face of it, to be sure, A.B. Yehoshua’s
A Late Divorce
hardly seems a story with epic national themes. On the contrary,
its cast of characters — which centers around the eight members
of the Kaminka family (the divorcing parents, Yehuda and
Naomi, their three grown children, their son- and daughter-in-
law, and their grandson) — is embroiled in a seething welter of
madness, neurosis, and criss-crossing love-hate relationships that
appears far removed from broad historical issues and an indica­
tion of how “normalized,” in Yehoshua’s view, life in Israel’s in­
creasingly Westernized and permissive society has become. So