Israel Literature Part I

By | December 22, 2021

Although rooted in earlier Hebrew literature, Israeli literature has exquisitely contemporary features and themes.

After the 1950s, the new waves of authors who have alternated on the literary scene increasingly reflect the problems of Israelis born in the country. Writers immersed in their natural environment become interpreters of the intimate problems of the individual with his crises and his contrasts. The debate among critics is still open as to whether this contemporary literature can be considered an absolutely new literary creation, even ” revolutionary ” compared to the previous one (B. Kurzweil), or can it be considered legitimate prosecutor of the past (G. Shaqed).

Two essential dialectical currents emerge in contemporary Israeli narrative production: once to external issues, the other to internal issues. The state of Israel it has not yet found a peaceful settlement, and it is above all the writers who feel the general spiritual trauma in which the problem of survival takes on an existential character. They interpret the individual aspiration for freedom, peace, security, but at the same time seek integration with the world that surrounds their society and which instead contrasts their aspirations, violently suffocating them. For Israel 2019, please check

Yzhar is perhaps one of the oldest writers born in Israel and, as his novels show (ha-Shāvūi, “The prisoner”; ha-Nimlāṭ, “The survivor”), he is one of the interpreters of this state of soul.

The theme of war and the protest against the moral degeneration that this inevitably causes in the human soul constitute a fundamental note in the narrative work of various writers. Thus appear both short stories and novels centered on the spiritual condition of men who feel involved in a serious moral crisis resulting from having to submit to a situation that requires man to defend himself and kill. The war experience in Israeli narrative generally does not find an exaltation and a representation in a heroic key, on the contrary: it creates psychological disturbances and literally stimulates the escape from such a world: “I wanted to hide from the world”, says the protagonist of a novel by B. Tammuz (b. 1919). The escapist theme also appears in Y’s novels. ‘ hā-Yōrēd lĕ-ma ‘ălāh (1961, “He who descends upward” or “The acrophile”) by Y. Kianuk (b. 1930), where the writer is located in New York, a city that he is a stranger and yet he loves the strangeness of which he grasps the alienation. The theme of loneliness emerges in another writer, P. Sadē (b. 1929), who in the novel Maṣāvō shel ‘ādām (1967, “The human condition”) accepts this state of mind as pleasant and who, in one of his precedents work of 1957 (hā-Ḥayyīm Kĕmāshāl, “Life as a parable”), denounced nationalism as an end in itself.

Among the writers who give their fiction a rather symbolic slant or write stories with an allegorical meaning there is Tammuz with the short novel ha-Pardēs, “L’ aranceto ” (1972), a fable that has as its theme the opposing claims on the country between Arabs and Jews.

The literary form of moral allegory, in vogue among representatives of the so-called ‘middle generation’ Israeli fiction, is particularly favored by popular younger writers such as’ A. ῾Oz (b.1939) and AB Yehoshua῾ (b.1936).

The first, translated into several languages, met with some international success. In Mīkā’ēl šel-lī (1968, trans. It., Michele mio, 1975), indulging in fantasies, ῾Oz describes the loneliness of the novel’s protagonist by proposing an original profile of the Jerusalem of the 1950s. Yehoshua῾, who already in his first fiction had highlighted a style that fluctuates between surrealism and symbolism, is an author of great importance, absolutely original. Both ῾Oz in Mĕnūḥāh nĕchōnāh (1970, “A right rest”) and Yehoshua῾ in Ghērūshīm mĕ’uḥārīm (1978, “A belated divorce”) scrutinize the psychology of the individual, the first in the collectivistic structure of the kibbutz and the other in that of a large family, whose feelings and reactions between different generations are analyzed.

Other authors that deserve mention are: AC Kahanà, who with an accurate and precise style, based on contained rhythms, manages to involve the reader by describing complex personal relationships, as in Sādōt magnētī īm (1977, “Magnetic fields”), and A. Appelfeld (n. 1932), whose stories, devoted largely to the theme of Jews in the face of the Holocaust, are the expression of the “survivor who outlines the past as if it were frozen in the present”; similarly in his short novels (Badenheim 1939 ; trans. it., 1981) and Il Rifugio (trad. it., 1985), outlining with extraordinary discretion the psychological condition of the Jewish protagonists on the eve of the Nazi genocide, Appelfeld manages to portray the distressing situation of the imminent misfortune that hangs over European Jews at the work of an implacable world that presses without giving them escape. Y. Orpaz (b.1923), Kianuk and J. Shabtai (1934-1981) are three storytellers who, chronologically, can be placed in the ” middle generation ”.

Orpaz’s prose has been called “fantastic realism”; Sippurē Reḥov Tomagena (“Tales of Via Tomagena”) relives the distant past of his childhood in Russia with an impressionistic style, while in Mot Lysanda (1988, “Death of Lysanda”) the dream and fantasy burst into the daily reality of the protagonist, a “sweet madman who lives when he dreams and dreams when he lives, a madman of those who exist only in art”.

Israel Literature