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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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


The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7