Page 54 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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42
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Divorce
that speaks of the radical social and psychological disin­
tegration o f Israeli society, while
A Perfect Peace
charts a
reintegrative idyll: one rather suspects both novels of springing
from some deeper source than their authors’ non-fictional pro­
nouncements.) Certainly, as intensely involved with collective
concerns as they (and, understandably, most Israelis) are, yet as
drawn like most novelists to the ideography of particular lives,
they must find a fictional form that enables them to combine both
an attractive option. And while the Israel of the 1980s is a less
compact society than the Palestinian Yishuv, it is still a small,
embattled, and conflict-torn one in which even ordinary citizens
going about their daily lives sometimes sense with a clairvoyant
lucidity that they are participants in a great historical adventure.
In such a climate symbolic realism will continue to thrive — as it
indeed has in Israel, where, besides the two books discussed here,
it has produced some of the best writing of the past decade. (I am
thinking, for instance, of a novel like Hayyim Be’e r’s
Feathers
or a
novella like Shulamit Hareven’s
The Miracle Hater.)
Still, there are other questions that must be asked about novels
like
A Late Divorce
and
A Perfect Peace
and about such “split-level”
writing on the whole. There is no denying that at its best the form
can produce a satisfying complementarity of meaning in which
each dimension is fully realized in itself and the secondary, sym­
bolic one does not impinge arbitrarily on the primary, verisimilar
one, which retains its own independence
(Feathers
is a fine exam­
ple of such a book); the problem begins when the boundary is
breached. There may be nothing intrinsically heinous about, like
Joshua, stopping the sun or the moon from rising or setting on
time; in fiction, unlike real life, few people will even notice it. But
when such a lapse is a symptom of a more general willingness to
play fast and loose with reality for the sake of symbolic ends, the
threat to a work of fiction’s integrity is greater — as is the case
with both of our two novels and especially with their calculated
endings. Precisely because Yehuda Kaminka is a credible and
thoroughly sane character throughout
A Late Divorce,
it is impos­
sible for us to accept his final transvestic metamorphosis: the act
is simply not believable in any psychological or behavioral terms
and seeing him perform it is like watching an actor who, after
giving a convincingly true-to-life performance, suddenly starts to
move like a puppet on a string, jerked about by a backstage ma­
chine. The same holds true of the final pages of
A Perfect Peace.