Are Two of the Most Promising Recent Hebrew Novels Just Too Darn Long?

Reviewing three works of Israeli literature, Haim Watzman—an American-born Israeli writer and translator—labeled them “never-ending stories” that are simply “too long,” and admitted that he stopped reading all of them before he was halfway through. Jessica Cohen, also a well-regarded translator of Hebrew books into English, argues that Watzman has done a disservice to two of them:

When I first read Uri Katz’s debut, tentatively titled in English The Man Who Got Stuck with a Scowl, I was captivated from the first page, the exhilaration of a new discovery staying with me to the end. It is a remarkably ambitious work; there are moments when Katz teeters on the edge of that ambition, but in each instance he finds his footing. . . . Katz is also a writer of profound emotional sincerity, with a biting sense of humor. There are moments when the narrative sags a little under its own weight. But then, it is the rare novel that succeeds in sustaining the same intensity on every page. I would rather amble through the occasional bagginess and reap the rewards, than trot across a novelette that offers little in the way of insight or originality.

It is difficult to conceive of two more dissimilar Israeli novels than The Man Who Got Stuck with a Scowl and [Leah Aini’s] Rose of Lebanon. . . . Aini’s book is long because its narrative involves cumulative fragments that spiral slowly but powerfully around a devastating core. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I view this extraordinary book as a contender for “the great Israeli novel.” . . . Vered, [Hebrew for rose], the author’s alter-ego, sits every week at the bedside of Yonatan, a critically wounded soldier who tried to commit suicide rather than fight in the Lebanon War. This narrative framework, and the brutally candid monologues that the narrator tells her captive audience of one, are also the novel’s thematic backbone.

Leah grew up in a drab working-class neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, with near-illiterate parents, surrounded by Holocaust survivors (including her father), Mizraḥim, and other marginalized Israelis who collectively represent “the Second Israel,” their workaday stories and deprivations largely excluded from the national narrative. Yonatan, conversely, is a privileged Ashkenazi from an upper-middle-class Jerusalem neighborhood, a handsome combat soldier coasting on family connections and privilege—a poster child for “the First Israel.” The symbolism is clear: Yonatan can only hear Vered’s story when forced to do so by being in a near-vegetative state.

Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Hebrew literature, Israeli literature, Literature


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus