Mining her recent experience at the highly prestigious International Workshop for Writers in Iowa, the Israeli novelist Galit Dahan Carlibach has written Zot ani, Iowa (“It’s Me, Iowa”), about a similar writer’s time at the same program. Michael Weingrad, describing the book as “a very dark comedy” filled with “politically incorrect humor,” states in his review:
From the beginning, Dahan Carlibach’s alter ego has irreverent fun with the political pecking order at the program, referring throughout to herself and the other participants by the names of their countries. . . .
There is an encounter described in a . . . wry and deadpan fashion between Israel and Palestine in an organic grocery store, where Palestine has forgotten his passport and so can’t use his credit card. Israel offers to pay, but Palestine storms off, insulted. “The other countries looked at Israel as if I had personally invaded the territories in ’67 and callously conquered each house and village myself.”
Israel’s literary agent encourages her to have affairs with enemy countries: a memoir about a tryst with Palestine or Iran would surely sell like hotcakes. . . . Book sales notwithstanding, [however], Israel has her eye on a local American musician named Dustin, on whom she projects all of her Middle Eastern fantasies about a wholesome life among the cornfields. Poor guy. In a reversal of Philip Roth’s Alexander Portnoy, the neurotic Jew in this book is an Israeli who has found her golden sheygets. Dustin expects their relationship to be over after a one-night stand, but Israel is not put off so easily.
The protagonist eventually undergoes “a complete mental breakdown, . . . murdering [Dustin] and dumping his body in the Mississippi.” By coincidence, Zot ani, Iowa, appeared within a few weeks of Ha-morah l’ivrit (“The Hebrew Teacher”) by the novelist Maya Arad—herself a resident of Palo Alto, California—a work similar in subject matter if very different in tone.
The three novellas that make up [Arad’s] new book all concern Israelis who live in the United States and make their living in connection with academia or high tech. If this sounds like a narrow sociological vein to mine, all the more credit to Arad, who is one of the most talented Hebrew novelists of her generation and who here offers profoundly moving and universal vistas of experience, sorrow, and humor. . . .
[T]here is nothing tendentious about Arad’s stories. She touches, gently, on a range of sociological patterns—the shaky status of Hebrew among the American children of her Israeli characters, for instance, and the looser, sometimes nonexistent family ties in America as compared with Israel—but her purpose is not to offer critique but to observe her characters in their all-too-human complexity.