Top 10 books on Israel | Israel


OWhat constitutes a literature of Israel? Is it the holy triumvirate of Amos Oz, AB Yehoshua and David Grossman? I don’t really think so. Is it the poetry of Chaim Nachman Bialik? Maybe. Or could it be the fringe pamphlets and paperbacks of long-forgotten Zionist novels and boiling Hebrew detectives, where David Tidar – no relation – reigned supreme? Is it the westerns, horror novels and softcore porn from authors as delightfully named as “Mike Longshott” and “Kim Rockman”, which can still be found occasionally on dusty shelves or at the Jaffa flea market?

Maybe. They seem more honest to me, in their own way.

James Joyce once said he couldn’t write about Ireland until he was away from it, and that may be true of anyone’s home – only to be clearly seen, it must be seen from afar, with a love that is no longer blinded by faults. And it seems strange to me, after spending a decade writing novels at the intersection of politics and fantasy, to have ventured into a grand historical epic instead. Guided by a retired journalist, I delved deep into historical newspaper archives to explore the dark underbelly of an Israel I only thought I knew. The result was marora novel that attempts to write an Israel that could not be written from within.

How do you write about Israel? Each of these books answers the question differently.

1. One thousand and two days before sunset by Shimon Adaf
Adaf’s debut novel is just the beginning of the recently translated Lost Detective trilogy, which treats Israel’s history as fiction that must be deciphered by a writer-detective lost in the futility of the attempt. . A welcome introduction in English to one of Israel’s most adventurous literary novelists.

2. The Simulacra by Philip K Dick
I grew up on a kibbutz, on a diet of translated American science fiction, and never saw myself reflected until I read Philip K Dick. My favorite remains The Simulacra, one of his more obscure mid-period novels brimming with invention, with its time-traveling Israelis and kibbutzim on Mars. Dick’s books gave me the confidence to eventually write my own.

3. Murder in a kibbutz by Batya Gur
Gur captured what it was like to grow up on a kibbutz like no one else, and his detective, Michael Ohayon, is the perfect intruder into this closed society, exposing the tensions simmering beneath the sunny community ideal that I was. raised in.

4. All backs turned by Marek Hłasko
The “Polish James Dean” was a hard-drinking exile from his native land who unlikely ended up in Israel at the turn of the 1950s. His memorable two years in the place he once called “a wild west of survivors of the Holocaust” were spent in the company of prostitutes, drunks and petty criminals. The result is this dark masterpiece, in which two little hoods, Dov and Israel, decide to seek a new life in the southern city of Eilat. Tragedy inevitably follows. It’s an Israel that no one else wrote, by a stranger who saw it like no one else.

Mahmoud Darwish. Photography: Reuven Kopicchinsky/AP

5. Sadly, It Was Heaven: Selected Poems of Mahmoud Darwish
“You have your victories and we have ours,” Darwish wrote, “we have a country where we only see the unseen.” The Palestinian national poet writes about two lands with one geography, and an attempt to include his poetry in the Israeli school curriculum has notably sparked political outrage. But no one captures the meaning of a single land divided by competing histories better than Darwish, who knew that it takes an act to name a land to own it.

6. Palestine +100: Stories from a Century After the Nakba edited by Basma Ghalayini
This groundbreaking Palestinian sci-fi anthology isn’t always easy to read, though there is humor woven through the desperation in some stories, such as in Ahmed Masoud’s Application 39, which imagines a Palestinian bid for the Olympics as an escalation of crises. . The mass oblivion in Samir El-Youssef’s The Association is reminiscent of Howard Jacobson’s J, while Selma Dabbagh’s Sleep it Off, Dr. Schott constructs a whole future world in a few pages. It is essential reading.

7. The Dope Priest by Nicholas Blincoe
This stoner thriller is now out of print, but Blincoe tackles the secretive world of land deals in the occupied territories with verve, and this was my first introduction to the subject. Blincoe captures the dark atmosphere well: that which involves, then and now, espionage operations and the threat of death hanging over anyone willing to sell.

8. With this night by Leah Goldberg
Hebrew was not Goldberg’s first or even second language. After learning it, she then helped shape it, and her poems carry a strong sense of place and individuality. This final collection sparkles, and poems such as Tel Aviv, 1935 simply capture the meaning of a world now gone. One of my favorite collections of Hebrew poetry, by one of my favorite poets.

9. The Vultures/Scumbags by Yoram Kaniuk
Ostracized by the Israeli literary establishment for most of his life, Kaniuk captures the horror of the 1948 war for a soldier abandoned by his commanding officer, forced to hide among corpses as vultures circle above his head, in the first of these two classic short stories. In the second, two elderly fighters, disgusted with the modern state, embark on a murderous spree against the “scumbags”, the children of their aging generation (the Hebrew title, Nevelot, also meaning “corpses”) they have learned to hate. Wild and beautiful by turns.

ten. Just the Job: Some Experiences of a Colonial Policeman by Geoffrey J Morton
You’ll probably have to look it up at the British Library, but it’s just wonderful. Morton served in Palestine in the 1930s and 40s, until he shot and killed Avraham “Yair” Stern, leader of the so-called Stern Gang. Morton then survived several assassination attempts before being transferred halfway around the world. It details the bloody conflict between Arab and Jewish resistance groups as well as the more mundane type of crime, but it’s a very British sense of frustration with the natives that really captivates. A first chapter is devoted to the harsh treatment of donkeys; and one of Morton’s first tasks as a police officer was to ensure that taxi drivers did not honk their horns so loudly – ​​the noise greatly displeased the British Commissioner. It’s sometimes a stark reminder that it was the British Empire that shaped the modern map of the Middle East – and many of its current conflicts.

Maror is published by Apollo (£20). To support the Guardian and the Observer, order a copy at Delivery charges may apply.


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