Page 88 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
rator. Although he is generally recognized (by himself too) as
“a borderline case,” different from the run of mankind, if not
actually retarded, he is so open and cognizant of the situation
that we might wonder if he is really that sort of case after all.
Apparently, he was damaged at birth by the forceps that de­
livered him, and, although he can manifestly cope with certain
types of mental activities (for example, he has an extraordinary
capacity for mental arithmetic), he lacks, according to his own
account, the “power of abstraction.” He both presents himself
in the first person, and stands outside himself.
In almost every instance, he is different from others. Al­
though he is gifted with enormous physical strength, he can
not use that strength to harm anyone or even to defend himself.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, he likes Arabs. Again,
against the current trend, he has a great affinity with old people,
as they do not “get at him” (p. 84). His family is isolated within
the village by bitterness and tragedy. He shares that degree of
marginalization, but is doubly marginalized within the family
too. Now, both his parents who suffered the loss of their twin
sons (his brothers), are totally separated from the world and
enclosed within themselves; he is both separated from them and
the rest of the world. He eventually meets a woman who wants
to be with him without any attempt to intervene in his condition.
But, he can not respond to this invitation, as he wants to stay
“faithful” to his Alexandra, a girl whom he once saw many years
back in a bus, and to whom he has not even spoken. It may
be that she does not even exist, but he will constantly pursue
her in his quixotic fashion.
The novel consists of seventeen monologues. The presenta­
tion is not only the narrator’s own, but seems to be a rep re­
sentation of his own unedited speech. It comes to us in his sub­
standard language, with his mistakes of grammar (including his
own corrections and revisions), exclamations and weird speech
habits. But he also presents outside, more “objective” estimates,
as in an “assessment document” (pp. 25/6). This “borderline
case” is the ultimate outsider, alienated to and by society in gen­
eral, although still astoundingly benevolent.
Ben-Ner, as a narrative writer, accompanies Israeli history
from the Yishuv of the interwar years, through Israel’s own
wars and the ongoing intifada in its most radical phases. The
narrative considers the nature of the Israeli State from its in­