Two Jewish Fantasy Novels, Despite Their Respective Charms, Are Satisfied with Superficiality

Gavriel Savit’s English-language The Way Back and Masha Zur-Glozman’s Hebrew-language Satisfying the Dragon are both, in their own ways, Jewish-themed fantasy novels. In the first, characters from a 19th-century Russian shtetl confront demons and the supernatural, while in the second the 21st-century protagonist travels to the 13th century to have an affair with French nobleman. Reviewing both, Michael Weingrad finds “dark delights” as well as “weaknesses” in The Way Back:

In interviews, Savit has spoken of mining Jewish tradition for his fantasy, but he didn’t dig that deep. For instance, of the book’s four main supernatural characters, two are (to the best of my knowledge) imports from Christian, not Jewish myth. . . . We get a canny fantasy version of the Jewish cantonist brigades of the Russian empire on the one hand; on the other, we get an episode with literal chicken soup for the soul.

As for Satisfying the Dragon, which Weingrad describes as “a Tel Aviv hipster in King Arthur’s court,” the author’s literary skill can’t make up for the “banality” of its main character Idit, and her husband Shaul.

Idit’s daily existence consists of pot-smoking, artisanal cocktails, dropping her daughter off at daycare, and stepping out occasionally to a dance club or political protest or European capital for vacation. Her husband, who supports her financially and whose family conveniently bequeaths them their seaside villa, is supposed to be some kind of Israeli cultural figure. He is the editor of the feminist magazine M’shuḥreret (Liberated Woman) and radio host of a successful arts-and-culture program. Yet neither he nor Idit evinces any interest in ideas, art, or culture apart from binging Netflix. Credentialed, progressive, and self-infatuated, they are perfect examples of today’s slightly-above-average-intelligence members of the cultural elite.

Naturally, Idit’s Jewishness is of no import to her on either side of the portal—for that matter, neither are the Christian beliefs and practices of her lover—and she doesn’t even register curiosity about the medieval Jewish doctor who tends to the family of her courtly swain. Her crusader Jean is good in bed, and that’s all Idit needs to know about the 13th century. If treated as satire, the book’s premise would make excellent Israeli television, but this novel is earnest.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Fantasy, Israeli literature, Jewish literature


Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security