The Humanity and Humor of A.B. Yehoshua’s Fiction

Earlier this year, the great Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua died at the age of eighty-five. Robert Alter—who, like the author’s other friends, knew him as “Buli”—offers a personal and literary perspective on Yehoshua’s work:

There is a prevailing notion in the Hebrew criticism of Yehoshua’s novels that they are all about Jewish history, Zionism, and the future of the nation. To this end, critics have dutifully unearthed national and historical motifs, freighted allusions to the Bible, and interrogations of the Zionist project. Some Hebrew critics have come close to turning his stories and novels into national allegories. None of this is altogether off the mark. What such readings miss, however, is the charm of his novels. They also forgo any explanation of how his work has kindled enthusiasm among Americans, Europeans, and others who could scarcely be expected to be much interested in Zionism, the Jewish people, and Jewish history. It’s worth remembering that Buli was also a comic novelist. Granted, the comedy of his fiction is offbeat, deadpan, and often concerned with the grimmest realities of life, from obsession to dementia. Still, reading Buli’s wry descriptions and bizarre scenarios, one often cannot help but smile.

The subject that powerfully engages Yehoshua as a writer is how a perfectly ordinary person can find himself edging by degrees into behaviors that are altogether unreasonable, on occasion grotesque, and, often, bizarrely comic.

Elsewhere, the comedy is in Yehoshua’s droll descriptions. His last novel, The Tunnel, vividly illustrates this. Though about the decline into senility of a character named Zvi Luria (yet another engineer), written when Buli himself was aging, it abounds in amusing formulations. Thus, Herod is referred to as “the admirable King Herod, who ruled our nation for almost 40 years, and was like the Office for Public Works and Israeli Roads rolled into one.”

Buli, needless to say, was urgently concerned with sounding the depths of his people’s bewildering and often murky history and trying to make out how Zionism might provide a viable response to the challenging ambiguities of the Jewish condition. . . . As a novelist, however, he often used the vehicle of fiction to indulge playfully in whimsical ideas and situations rather than polemics. His work reminds us that fiction can be entertaining, and perhaps should be, even when it is serious.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: A B Yehoshua, Hebrew literature, Humor, Israeli literature, Robert Alter

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship