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

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security