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Category Archive for 'Israel'

Set in an upscale apartment building on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Three Floors Up might well have been called “Three Stories Up,” as each of the three floors in this building features a resident who has a story to tell in novella form. Dramatic and intensely personal, these stories by author Eshkol Nevo have few overlaps among them, but as the author focuses on how each person manages his/her life within an Israeli society which is still growing and evolving, the reader becomes involved in the action, especially the psychological action, in ways quite different from most other fiction. The first story, taking place on the first floor, focuses on Arnon, an aggressive, self-serving head of the household, a designer of successful restaurants, husband of Ayelet, and father of two young daughters, Ofri and Yaeli. His short temper and need to be in charge eventually leads to a family disaster. The second story, taking place on the second floor, involves Hani, who is writing to an old friend, Netta, now living in the US. Hani fears she is about to have another breakdown, like the one she had eighteen years ago, and she is begging for help. The last and best developed story, tells the story of Devora Edelman, a widow and retired judge who writes messages to her deceased husband telling him the local news, including an experience she has had with Hani from the second floor, and some new information about the residents on the first floor. When she meets a new friend and goes out into the desert with him, she begins to open up about her son, with whom she has had no contact for three years. Eventually, she begins to take charge of her life and her participation in political demonstrations. A dramatic and enlightening depiction of life in present day Israel.

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An award-winning Israeli screenwriter and WINNER of Israel’s Sapir Prize for best debut fiction, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen may find a much larger audience with this new novel, her first one to be translated into English. Critics have been busy trying to describe her work, with many calling it literary fiction because of the excellence of the prose style and the complex development of her themes. Others, however, carried away by the action and its consequences, have described it as a thriller. And, since Gundar-Goshen is a clinical psychologist using this novel to explore the ways in which some people can sometimes suppress feelings of guilt, if given enough motivation to do so, the novel may also be described as an intense psychological novel. The opening lines instantly establish the mood and tone. Eitan Green, a young doctor in Beersheba, Israel, having completed his night duty, is relaxing as he drives his SUV at high speed in the Negev desert, enjoying the sense of freedom and the beauty of the moon. Suddenly, he strikes an Eritrean pedestrian, and he knows within minutes that the man will die. He briefly considers what will happen to him when he reports the death to the police, considers that he will probably get a few months in jail, and realizes that that sentence will end any chance of his doing surgery in the future. Another possibility is all too clear, however. “He couldn’t save this man. At least he’d try to save himself.” As Eitan returns home, he must reconcile what he has done with what he has always believed – and live with it and the consequences. Then the widow of the man shows up and makes him an offer he cannot refuse…

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Having given up his thesis on “Jewish Views of Jesus,” young Israeli student Shmuel Ash needs a job and a place to live. On the college bulletin board, he finds a notice advertising a job for a Humanities student willing to spend five hours each evening chatting with a seventy-year-old invalid who craves company. The notice indicates that the employer will provide housing for the person who accepts this job, but the new employee will have to agree to have no visitors and to keep confidential everything he learns about his employers. With nothing to lose, Shmuel accepts the job. As Oz develops the stories of these mysterious people and how they are connected, he also establishes deep-seated theological and historical conflicts which continue to plague the world, especially the Middle East, to the present day. What begins as a highly descriptive novel of the real world quickly blossoms into a grand exploration of the ideas and theological beliefs which are the bedrock of Christianity and Judaism, their history and cultures – a novel “writ large” in the best possible meaning of those words. Though the book is dense, it is also enlivening, and for an American audience, it provides historical context for some of the issues between the US and Israel in the present. The religious subject matter, new to me, was stunning, and the connections between desire and error, and betrayal and vengeance, seen throughout, have never seemed so small.

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Mai Al-Nakib, an author from Kuwait who got her PhD. in English literature from Brown University, knows how to capture an American audience, and her descriptions and her narrative style in this remarkable collection of stories are so attuned to her characters and subjects that readers will actually experience – not just “learn about” – parts of the world which most of us know only second-hand. Set in Kuwait, Lebanon, and Palestine, and, through the travel of some of these characters, in Japan and Greece, her stories are filled with word pictures so vivid that many readers will come close to feeling the reality of day-to-day life in these places. She opens new worlds, and by the time the collection ends, many readers will be viewing life in these parts of the world with clearer vision and greater empathy. The passage of time, the fragility of life, the effects of change, and the transcience of memory unite this story and connect it to other stories in this collection. The title of the collection, The Hidden Light of Objects, attests to the importance of the story objects within these stories, and while none of us, perhaps, regard our own “souvenirs” or keepsakes as “story objects” in quite the same way as they are used here, it is impossible not to identify with the characters here as they share their intimate thoughts and feelings with us as readers. Separating the ten short stories are series of ten short vignettes, which sometimes connect with each other and within various stories. This extraordinary collection deals with the biggest, most universal themes of literature, told through the eyes of characters with whom readers will identify and, perhaps, gain in understanding.

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As Israeli author Yoel Hoffmann begins his wild metafictional, and often metaphysical, tale, he invites the reader along with him, as he experiments with his format, lets his mind wander in new directions as one idea leads to the next, remembers the past and the people in it, thinks about God (or not) and death, and creates a tale that is both serious and full of fun at the same time – not a description which can be applied to many other novels these days. As the author himself says, later in the book, “At first glance this book would seem to be a hybrid. That is, a book that sometimes laughs and sometimes cries. But in fact (as logicians say), it’s laughing and crying at once, and to the same degree.” The book challenges the very nature of genre, emphasizing that all books are stories, just as life is, and the best way to distinguish between them is to classify them by their feelings – happy or sad, “a book that can laugh or smile or cry. The book itself. The reader can behave however he likes.” Through flashbacks, Hoffmann recreates his own life, imagines new lives, and returns to the image of his father wearing his Schaffhausen watch, emphasizing that the men who created this watch are now either dead or very old and that their wives are also dead. Music, and dreams, and poetry, and parallel languages also gain attention from an author so alive and so full of ideas that anyone who chooses to read this marvelous book will be profoundly affected.

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