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Category Archive for 'Israel'

Although author Herman Wouk talks about writing as a crapshoot, he himself also had a talent for being in the right place at the right time, recognizing new opportunities and new avenues of communication (such as television) as they have arisen. This talent, combined with his incredible dedication to long-range goals and seemingly unlimited energy – several times spending seven or eight years on a single book – led to popular success as well as literary recognition. Though many people over the years have suggested he write an autobiography, he has always been reticent about his private life, and his wife even told him, “Dear, you’re not that interesting a person.” This book, which he has declared will be his last, is a memoir, but in it, Wouk limits its scope to his work and the people and events which influenced it. About the author, one learns only as much as he deems necessary to understand how and why he wrote what he did. One of the most ambitious and principled writers of the past century ,Wouk has said that this book is his last. With a career which has spanned comedy, serious historical fiction, popular fiction, philosophy, and religion, Wouk has sold hundreds of thousands of books and had a major impact on the people and the culture of this country. He will be one-hundred-one years old on May 27, 2016, but with his energy, I would not bet anything on this book being his last.

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In this stimulating experimental novel in which Israeli author Gail Hareven plays with the boundaries of reality and fiction, truth and lies, Aaron Gotthilf’s book, Hitler, First Person plays a key role. Whether or not an Aaron Gotthilf really existed and whether or not his book was real is irrelevant to the writing of Hareven’s book and its themes. Most readers here will probably agree that a fictional depiction of Adolf Hitler as a “real,” and presumably sympathetic, human being would too small a gesture to “advance our understanding of the horrors of the twentieth century” in any meaningful way, but the idea that it might is just one of the many twists, turns, ironies, tours de force, and even dark-humored reversals that take place in this extraordinary novel. To tell her own story, Hareven creates another author, Elinor Gotthilf from Jerusalem, who is a cousin, once removed, of the “Aaron Gotthilf” who wrote one of the most controversial novels ever published, a book published and circulated in Europe, but never released in Israel. One of the world’s most important Holocaust researchers described this book as a “vile piece of filth not worthy of relating to.” Hareven’s approach to her novel is thoughtful and literary, despite the novel’s surprises and reversals. She incorporates a broad artistic and philosophical history within its structure, and though the novel contains some elements of a mystery novel, these are subordinated to the stories and experiences of the people, especially Elinor, who live within the novel and grow (or not) from their actions as they confront their own hatred during their search for justice and truth.In my Favorites List for 2015.

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Reading something fun by Daniel Silva always seems to be connected with my summer reading, and this novel is no exception – though not as interesting or challenging as his previous novel, The Fallen Angel, which dealt with on-going Arab-Israeli conflicts, a planned terrorist attack on an Israeli site in Europe, and the possibility that there is a very early Jewish temple built underneath the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. The English Girl, by contrast, feels much more “domestic,” concerning itself for much of the book with the kidnapping of a young woman who has been the lover of the Prime Minister of England, a circumstance which the prime minister’s political friends want resolved privately and as quietly as possible. Gabriel Allon, an Israeli art restorer who also works for the Israeli secret intelligence agency, has connections to intelligence services throughout the world as a result of his international work, and when he is contacted by the deputy director of MI5 in England, he agrees to try to find and free Madeline Hart, the woman being held hostage in some unknown place. The novel divides into two parts In the second part, and the novel becomes more complex and more relevant to present day international relations. When, during his investigations, Allon finds evidence that the Russians are interested in drilling for oil in the North Sea, he calls on Viktor Orlov, once one of the richest oligarchs of the Russian oil industry, for more information. The maneuvering for the European oil market becomes the main plot in the second half of the novel.

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Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua creates a surprising novel of ideas which ranges widely, as it examines such issues as reality vs. the recreation of reality through art and film and myth; life, as opposed to the afterlife, and whether the afterlife is real or an imagined fantasy; the actualities of the past vs. memories of the past; the concept of guilt and whether one can atone; and the many aspects of love – love and death, love and hatred, love and jealousy – as it controls our actions (and even our politics). The story line itself is not complicated. Famous Israeli director Yair Moses has received an unexpected invitation to attend a retrospective of his films to be held in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. He arrives with Ruth, an aging actress whom he regards more as a character in his films than as a real person. The films to be shown are all his earliest films, each made with the help of a brilliant screenwriter, Shaul Trigano, one of his students. The novel is rich in detail, ideas, and symbolism, and the author’s narrative is both energizing to the reader and exciting in its possibilities. Like so many other novels of ideas, however, it subordinates characters and their lives to the overall structure in order to clarify and illustrate philosophical and thematic ideas. As a result, the characters become vehicles, rather than living, breathing “humans” as they move in and out of their films and their “reality,” which is, of course, reality as depicted in an imaginative and unusual piece of fiction.

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In this startling and ingenious “biography” of Lazarus, told with a light, often humorous touch, Richard Beard defies the limits of “biography” by mixing known elements from the Gospel of John (and from historical research) with elements from his own imagination. Often “proving” his theories about the relationship of Lazarus and Jesus by drawing on the equally fertile imaginations of many other novelists and artists, who have also explored the story of Lazarus, Beard then adds additional elements of fantasy, where necessary, to flesh out the story and make his points. The result is a unique look at the life of Lazarus – and of Jesus – which will surprise and delight readers who have a flexible view of scripture and a sense of perspective, if not humor. I hasten to add here that Beard is not in any way writing a satire or a farce, and he is especially careful in his presentation to avoid any sense of disrespect toward the religious context of his story – he is simply offering some alternatives to a contemporary reader while giving new meaning to the term “fictionalized biography” as he depicts Lazarus.

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