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

March 4 2021

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

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy