Page 81 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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(p. 177), according to a 1967 survey that he once read. It is
the only place where one can enjoy complete stability and peace
(p. 181), i.e. it is the complete antithesis of Israel as he expe­
riences it. But, of course, within the parameters of the story,
he never leaves. The only member of his family to whom he
is genuinely close, his epileptic son-in-law, Moshe, also seems
to abandon him by leaving the family nest (following the dis­
covery of his wife’s open and repeated affairs). Moshe writes
to him that he knows that such a committed patriot will never
be able to tear himself away. It is a matter of personal frustration
and humiliation.
I have dwelt long on this story, written in 1979 and trans­
parently reflecting the political atmosphere and events of that
period, because of its stark lines and contrasts to be found there­
in. The central figure, distracted and frustrated to a point where
the present reality is found intolerable, creates an alternative
reality. New Zealand operates as the counterpoint, more a men­
tal construct than the physical shape which he has obviously
not experienced. Something else is tantalizingly held out in that
exotic country and through the beautiful lady. The author
draws a picture of a person driven mentally into physical suf­
fering. His own actual experience is alienating, and so he be­
comes alienated from his immediate environment. The “real”
world, the world of current events, of newspapers, of making
a living, of family life, of constant conflict, is indeed very present
here as in other places in the author’s opus. But that reality
is challenged.
I would like to suggest that this is a constant theme in Ben-
Ner’s stories, right from the initial publication of the first novel,
titled significantly,
The Man from There.
This is a first-person
account of a Palestinian Jew wounded in Egypt in the run up
to Israeli independence. He is then a person displaced, a Jew
amongst Moslems, an “Israeli” amongst Egyptians. He is con­
stantly and acutely aware of his otherness, even though he is
protected by his reluctant hosts. In fact, the narrative reveals
in its unexpected denouement that the family is secretly Jewish,
and that the suppressed and fearful Jewish component comes
out in fanatical, patriotic fantasies of the disturbed son. All is