Around the World discussion

Middle East (includes Turkey) > Israel - Genia Recommends - The "Not Oz or Grossman" thread, or; Israel Has a Literary Scene!

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Genia (last edited Oct 29, 2011 12:55PM) (new)

Genia Lukin Let us, by all means, get to it. Apparently, insofar as the outside reader is concerned, Israel has but two authors; Amos Oz and David Grossman - well, and a stack of Palestinian memoirs. As a point of strict fact, though, Israel is almost freakishly inclined to literacy, and has an almost obscene amount of publications every year, most of which are completely unreadable due to being written, in the by and large, by Israelis.

So what does one do if one doesn't want to wallow in the Arab-Israeli conflict, for a change? Or, I guess, if one's read up all the Oz and Grossman out there? I am here, to present the solution to all your problems! Including that of dandruff, too much suntan, and an excess of bookshelf space-- wait, did I just...?

Let's begin with the big hitters. If yo're into the incredibly serious, fantastically high-brow, devilishly hard literature, go no further. The one Israeli author to have actually won the Nobel for literature is Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Sadly, his interests didn't quite get to politics, so nobody knows about him.

His better known works include A Simple Story - a tragic love story in the best fairytale tradition, set in a small shtetl in Poland. Next is Tehila - another tragic love story (do you see a pattern?). The not-so-love-stories are In the Heart of the Seas, and his big - and by big I mean 600+ pages - novel Only Yesterday, which doubles as a great mid-level cafe and bookstore in the center of Jerusalem.

I don't know whether this is a real recommendation or not, because Agnon is probably the most purely difficult piece of literature any reader is likely to come across, barring Joyce. And this is true for a well-educated Jewish reader. Agnon doesn't spare allusions and symbolism.

The second in this list of high-brow horrors is David Shahar, with his Palace of Shattered Vessels series, which made it onto Bloom's Western Canon somehow, and parked its bulk of nine volumes there. Good luck.

Whew, okay, can we move on? Good. How about some historical novels? No problem. Here's Shulamit Lapid and her book Valley of Strength - about the establishment and first days of Rosh Pinah 9don't read the second part). And, a bit further back, we have Moshe Shamir with his fantastic novels, King of Flesh and Blood and Hittite Must Die (don't look at me, I wasn't the one who came up with this idiotic translation for the title) about king Alexander Yanai and David, respectively. And of course A Journey to the End of the Millennium - A Novel of the Middle Ages, which is the only Yehoshua novel I enjoyed.

For the mystery lovers, there's Ram Oren, for whom I can only find one translated book, The Mark of Cain. Batya Gur, with her series of mysteries with detective Michael Ohayon, the first of which is The Saturday Morning Murder: A Psychoanalytic Case.

And family sagas, ah, the family sagas, because Israelis love nothing more than family sagas. Especially the female ones. Shifra Horn with her book Four Mothers: A Novel. Gabriela Avigur-Rotem Heatwave and Crazy Birds and Zeruya Shalev's Thera.

And for those still seeking a dose of reality (mostly because there's no such thing as Israeli sci-fi) here are some authors from the side of the fence you don't often see.

Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato, who is a rabbi and head of a Yeshiva in Ma'ale Adumim, talks about the Yom Kippur war, and If You Awaken Love, which in its basis is also a tragic love story, does touch upon current issues, as a religious woman might see them.

Here we go. Surprised? I know, right! I know I am. I can't guarantee that everyone will like these books all to the same extent; I don't even like all of them to the same extent myself. But after all, if I want to simply throw a large stack of books of reasonable availability on people as a sort of incredibly dilletantish introductory course, I'd say at least one of these books would be there.

P.S.: I avoided Holocaust fiction, which is a wide, flourishing, and absolutely overwhelming jumble of memoirs, stories, fiction, second-generation psychology, and other wallowing, which everyone reads obsessively in a paroxysm of masochism at least equal to, if not greater than, any of the Great Israeli Authors out there. Mostly because by the time you are quite done with Israeli contemporary literature, you will have become so depressed, that I am not willing to face the responsibility - or front the psychologist bill - of what happens after you've read the Holocaust lit shelf.


Anne (On semi-hiatus) (reachannereach) Thank you, Genia. *clapping hands*

message 3: by Wendy (new)

Wendy (wendywoo) | 75 comments Wow -- I'm clapping too :-) I will definitely check some of these out. That is quite a list!

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Let's not forget Dan Pagis, a poet whose work I'm very fond of. Anton Shammas, an Arab-Israeli poet and novelist whose Arabesques was written in Hebrew, also appeals.

message 5: by Genia (new)

Genia Lukin I like Pagis a lot, but a) I focused on novels; no poetry (Yehuda Amichai, Daliya Rabikovich, Lea Goldberg, Rachel, Bialik....) or non-fiction and b) he's Holocaust literature - well, poetry - and I also avoided that.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Sure. I was דווקא adding some authors I like.

message 7: by Genia (new)

Genia Lukin Ah, well, davka...

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)


message 9: by Jenny (Reading Envy) (last edited Oct 30, 2011 06:30AM) (new)

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 1297 comments Mod
I dug a little deeper and discovered this list of speculative fiction authors from Israel (could be fantasy or sci-fi). It appears to have the youngest first. Have you heard of any of these? Following the links to them ... It doesn't always make sense to have them on this list, but I'll just leave them.

Daniel Arenson
Gaddy Bergmann
Lavie Tidhar
Maira Kalman
Nachman Ben-Yehuda
Shifra Horn
Tamar Hodes
Uri Geller

message 10: by Genia (last edited Oct 30, 2011 06:56AM) (new)

Genia Lukin Well, Shifra Horn I already mentioned. She mostly writes plain vanilla fiction, and is probably included because of her book The Fairest Among Women, which is supposed to be some level of magical realism. I haven't read it, so I don't know whether I would recommend it.

Nachman Bar-Yehuda is a non=fiction author. he did some analysis on sci-fi and ethics and so forth in some of the Israeli sci-fi conventions and magazines, but he has no books I know of. I mostly know of him because my history and archaeology professors love to hate him.

Tamar Hodes and Maira Kalman left when they were very young, 4-5 years old. I'd be reluctant to call them Israeli writers, just as if I ever published a book I'd be a bit reluctant to call myself a Russian author.

Lavie Tidhar, Gaddy Bergmann and Daniel Arenson might actually (*gasp*) count as Israeli sci-fi, though they seem to mostly live abroad and all write in English, but I've never heard of them from either direction - either as Israeli authors or as sci-fi authors - which tells me they might not be all that much.

Israel does have a smattering of sci-fi written in Hebrew but for some reason - don't ask me what; papers were written on it ad infinitum, but nobody knows - Israelis and Israel produce extremely poor quality sci-fi and fantasy. Nothing, certainly, that I'd recommend to anyone, much less as a 'taste of Israel'.

Israel does have a Hugo-like award - the Gefen prize - and I see that Assaf Gavron had won it, for his book Hydromania, so I guess there's that. Again, I don't know how the quality of that book is, as sci-fi and as a book. Otherwise... we are as travelers dying of thirst in the vast deserts of Dune, or something.

Russia, on the other hand....

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 1297 comments Mod
I wonder if sci-fi is fueled by an active space program, or vice versa. ;)

Because you were right, even if all 6 of those wrote sci-fi, which they dont, that's like 6 in 70 years!

I know I'm reading post-apocalypse for my Russian pick, but they also have great absurdist sci-fi and plenty of dystopia.

message 12: by Genia (new)

Genia Lukin Oh, goodness, do they ever. And space adventure, and sci-fantasy, and who knows what all else. I promised Anne that I'll get to recommendations about Russian literature, by genre; I'll probably do sci-fi first.

You're not sticking with the Strugatskys in the end? Blast. I love them. They're my second favourite authors, after Feuchtwanger, and only by a tiny little bit.

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 1297 comments Mod
Just by letting the universe decide, I came across We first, but it looks short. I really want to read How to Be a God too!

message 14: by Sue (new)

Sue Thanks all of you for your wonderful ideas and insights. I'll be back to make more notes for future reading.

message 15: by Judy (new)

Judy (patchworkcat) | 2212 comments Genia, this list and comments are wonderful. Thanks for the introduction to some new authors.

message 16: by Genia (new)

Genia Lukin I got my friends on it, so an update at some point is likely. Something along the lines of "If you really want depressing, try -these- Holocaust writers!"

message 17: by Judy (new)

Judy (patchworkcat) | 2212 comments Genia wrote: "I got my friends on it, so an update at some point is likely. Something along the lines of "If you really want depressing, try -these- Holocaust writers!""

Mmmm.....that one will have to be interspersed amongst happier books, me thinks.

message 18: by Paul (new)

Paul Hello. Just joined this group so I could comment on your list Genia! Nice list. I'll have to add a constructive comment or two when I have a bit more time... Some great reads here, and certainly a few I didn't know of. I think I can add a handful of recommendations as well - soon!

message 19: by Constance (new)

Constance (Lieber) | 54 comments I've read the Batya Gur mystery novels and enjoyed them. Thanks for the titles and comments on Israeli literature. I have "The Dovekeepers" on my list for Israel. What is your opinion there? Interesting opinions on Holocaust literature. I did my dissertation on the German experience in (now) western Poland just after WWII. I purposely left out the Jewish/Holocaust experience. It is just too vast. I have read some Holocaust-related books, for example by Jean Amery. His are not so much about his experiences during the Holocaust per se, but about the effects his experiences have had on his later life and philosophy of life. I recommend his!

message 20: by Genia (new)

Genia Lukin I haven't read The Dovekeepers. So far, I am dubious that I will. Already in the description there is a nice lump of historical errors - Masada fell in 73 CE, not 70; they held out for three years, not several months; they were one of three fortresses; Aziza is not even a Jewish name, and Eleazar ben Yair's people were fiercely nationalistic and wouldn't tolerate outsiders...

Basically, I am looking at the book and thinking that if in the back blurb alone I managed to find four errors, I am going to stay away from it. I love the Great Revolt period, and have studied it pretty thoroughly, I don't want to start foaming at the mouth just because of a writer's "creative license".

Besides, Josephus; prose is plenty exciting enough on its own.

message 21: by Constance (new)

Constance (Lieber) | 54 comments Ah. Sounds like I should substitute a different book. Thanks for the information.

message 22: by Genia (new)

Genia Lukin I'm not panning the book - I haven't read it yet, and I tend to be careful about how much I decide a book is bad before I even crack it open - but this was my impression at a glance. I'll always be happy to hear otherwise from someone who'd read it.

message 23: by Wendy (new)

Wendy (wendywoo) | 75 comments I am planning to listen to it on audio. I'm not as well-versed in the history as you are Genia, so maybe the historical inaccuaries won't drive me crazy since they will most likely go over my head.

back to top