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


Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood