Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Israeli writers today

In a comment on a review of Amos Oz's Scenes from Village Life over at Tony's Reading List, I remarked that there's a new shift in Israeli literature away from vague descriptions of the hardships and political turmoil of the region. In my haste and carelessness, I unintentionally led to some confusion, with Tony responding: "So are you saying that in the past writers preferred to allude to the issues rather than confront them?" To which I must apologize and say, No. That's not at all what I was referring to.

I generally divide Israeli literature into three categories - there's the older generation of writers (like S. Y. Agnon or even Aharon Appelfeld) who are irrelevant for this post, the middle, commonly translated era of Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua, David Grossman and a few others, and then there's the modern era - authors who have only recently begun their literary careers and are writing in what seems to be a post-political age.

It's this post-political age I was referring to in my comment. Authors like Grossman and Yehoshua (and I suspect Oz as well, though I have not actually read any of his works...) often refer to the regional struggles in a vague and background sort of way - the matters always exist in the story, but they are not always explicit. They do not take center stage, or even when they do, they don't exactly. It's an effect that mainly echoes a feeling in Israeli society: life goes on, but there's always a nagging something that casts its shadow over the bigger picture.

The younger generation of Israeli writers, though, have started to step away from this coy game. Instead, there has been an explosion in social literature: you can hardly walk into a bookstore without tripping over the next great novel about a middle-aged Tel-Aviv-ite, or the life and times of a kibbutz. There are still war-stories, and historical fiction that delves into many of Israel's older wars, as well as many books that deal with the issues head-on, but fewer and fewer novels seem to have that shadow hanging over them, or political aspirations of any kind, instead falling into more distinct characterizations. The Grossman-Oz-Yehoshua triangle of political activism has paved way for a clear division, allowing authors to write books separate from any socio-political issues. A sign of the times, perhaps.

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