Israel in Fiction: Celebrate Jewish Book Month with These Titles by Israeli Authors

the first wave

Modern Hebrew literature was first developed in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but by the 1930s, its center had shifted to the Jewish community in Palestine. With the first wave of Israeli writers emerging after the creation of the modern state of Israel in May 1948, these three authors especially helped to shape Israeli literary identity: Aharon Appelfeld, Amos Oz, and A.B. Yehoshua.

Appelfeld, Aharon. The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping. Schocken. 2017. 304p. tr. from Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green. ISBN 9780805243192. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780805243208. F

A survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Appelfeld has built a body of work that examines the tragedy of the Holocaust and its effects on the Jewish experience. His newest work tells the story of a young survivor who travels from a refugee camp to a kibbutz in Haifa, Israel, to begin a new life. (LJ 1/17)

SEE ALSO: Appelfeld’s Suddenly, Love (2014), Until the Dawn’s Light (2011), Blooms of Darkness (2010), Laish (2009), All Whom I Have Loved (2007), The Story of a Life (2004)

Oz, Amos. Judas. Houghton Harcourt. 2016. 320p. tr. from Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange. ISBN 9780544464049. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780544547452. F

Oz is an iconic cultural figure and one of the most celebrated writers in Israel; his work has been published in more than 40 languages. Short-listed for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, this novel follows a young man who falls in love with a troubled woman and uncovers her family’s tragic and traitorous role in the founding of Israel. (LJ 10/15/16)

SEE ALSO: Oz’s Between Friends (2013), Scenes from Village Life (2011), Rhyming Life & Death (2009), A Tale of Love and Darkness (2004), The Same Sea (2001)

Yehoshua, A.B. The Extra. Houghton Harcourt. 2016. 286p. tr. from Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman. ISBN 9780544609709. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780544715936. F

One of Israel’s preeminent writers continues to reflect on Jewish identity in Israel as well as the changing makeup of the Israeli family. After the death of her father, Noga, a 42-year-old musician, returns from the Netherlands to Jerusalem, where she finds work playing roles as an extra and is forced to confront her ex-husband.

SEE ALSO: Yehoshua’s The Retrospective (2013), Friendly Fire (2008), A Woman in Jerusalem (2006), The Liberated Bride (2003)

second Generation

The literature of the second generation of Israeli writers, who were born after independence in 1948, reflects the increasing fragmentation of Israeli identity and society, as represented here by the very different works of David Grossman and Meir Shalev. Both authors’ characters are rich, multidimensional, and brought to life by phenomenal, insightful writing.

Grossman, David. A Horse Walks into a Bar. Knopf. 2017. 208p. tr. from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. ISBN 9780451493972; ebk. ISBN 9780451493989. F

Winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, this harrowing story takes place in the span of only two hours and unfolds during the final show of stand-up comedian Dovaleh Gee. (LJ 9/15/16)

SEE ALSO: Grossman’s Falling Out of Time (2014), To the End of the Land (2010), Lion’s Honey (2006), Her Body Knows (2005), Someone To Run With (2004)

Shalev, Meir. Two She-Bears. Schocken. 2016. 320p. tr. from Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman. ISBN 9780805243291. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780805243307. F

Shalev depicts Israeli rural life and history from the time of the British Mandate for Palestine in 1922 to the present. (LJ 8/16)

SEE ALSO: Shalev’s My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner (2011), A Pigeon and a Boy (2007), Four Meals (2002), The Loves of Judith (1999), The Blue Mountain (1991)

New voices

The third generation of Israeli writers emerged after the Six-Day War in June 1967 and its aftermath. Offering a different tone—perhaps more cutting edge and daring—these younger novelists, such as Dorit Rabinyan and Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, present a varied and fragmented outlook for the country.

Rabinyan, Dorit. All the Rivers. Random. 2017. 288p. tr. from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. ISBN 9780375508295. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781588361868. F

This beautifully written and complex novel about a love affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who meet in New York City in 2003 won the Bernstein Prize, but Israel’s Education Ministry attempted to ban the book, fearful that it would encourage intermarriage. In what later became a best seller, Rabinyan shows how two young people find happiness despite holding vastly different political and religious beliefs.

SEE ALSO: Rabinyan’s Strand of a Thousand Pearls (2002), Persian Brides (1998)

Gundar-Goshen, Ayelet. Waking Lions. Little, Brown. 2017. 352p. tr. from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. ISBN 9780316395434. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316395403. F

Winner of the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize for 2017, this combination of psychological thriller, crime novel, and morality play revolves around Dr. Eitan Green, a respected neurosurgeon who has been exiled to the remote southern town of Beersheva. After working a long shift, he takes his SUV off-roading in the desert and accidentally hits and kills an Eritrean refugee. Eitan flees the scene, but the victim’s wife discovers his wallet and blackmails him into establishing an underground clinic to treat undocumented immigrants from Africa. NBC bought the rights to adapt the novel into a TV series but will change the setting to Beverly Hills, CA. Gundar-Goshen’s debut novel, One Night, Markovitch, which won Israel’s prestigious Sapir Prize for debut fiction in 2012, was translated into English by Sondra Silverston but so far has only been published in the UK. (Xpress Reviews, 2/10/17)

Israel abroad

Israeli writers are not confined to one country, as many live and work around the globe. Some have adopted the language of their new homes, such as Ayelet Tsabari (The Best Place on Earth: Stories) and Shani Boianjiu (The People of Forever Are Not Afraid), while others, such as Reuven Namdar, continue to write in Hebrew.

Namdar, Reuven. The Ruined House. Harper. Nov. 2017. 528p. tr. from Hebrew by Azzan Yadin-Isrel. ISBN 9780062467492. $29.99; ebk ISBN 9780062467508. F

In 2015, Namdar, who now resides in New York, became the first writer living outside Israel to receive the Sapir Prize, Israel’s top literary award. Shortly thereafter, however, the government passed a new law restricting the prize to writers living in Israel full time. Namdar says that his novel, about a professor who has visions of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, is a tribute to Jewish American writers such as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Cynthia Ozick. (LJ 9/1/17)

While the number of books being translated from Hebrew is still small, it has increased dramatically in the last several years, with less-well-known Israeli writers—particularly women authors and those from more diverse backgrounds—being published in English for the first time. Furthermore, that we’re also seeing more novels, written by native English speakers and set in Israel and/or featuring Israeli characters, is further evidence that Israeli culture, and Israel in literature, can and does have a global reach. Recent examples include Nathan Englander’s Dinner at the Center of the Earth (LJ 8/17), Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am (LJ 7/16), Nicole Krauss’s Forest Dark (LJ 7/17), and Dalia Rosenfeld’s The Worlds We Think We Know: Stories (Milkweed, 2017).

Rachel Kamin, MLIS, has been a Judaica librarian for over 20 years and is currently Director of the Cultural & Learning Center, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL. She facilitates book clubs at six local synagogues

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