Death of a Holy Land: Reflec­tions in Con­tem­po­rary Israeli Fiction

Rose L. Levinson
  • Review
By – May 12, 2014

In Death of a Holy Land, pro­fes­sor Rose Levin­son shares her insights about the death of the Zion­ist narrative’s hold on Israel’s cit­i­zens. Through care­ful and intel­li­gent read­ings of eight con­tem­po­rary Israeli nov­els (aren’t all Israeli nov­els con­tem­po­rary?), she invites read­ers to look anew at Israel as a coun­try unpro­tect­ed by the notion of excep­tion­al­ism.” Levinson’s study guides us through two nov­els each by Yoram Kaniuk, Orly Cas­tel-Bloom, Michal Gov­rin, and Zeruya Shalev. The author finds recur­rent themes of dis­tort­ed iden­ti­ties, bar­ren rela­tion­ships, sui­ci­dal impuls­es, and under­mined myths: most notably, the myth of the super­hero New Jew.” 

In her read­ings, Levin­son inter­prets her sub­ject authors as reveal­ing an extreme­ly trou­bled nation-state” through char­ac­ters whose lives reflect those trou­bles: a chaos of val­ues, direc­tion, and per­son­hood. Of course, she has select­ed these nov­els to make her point. One ques­tion we can ask is would anoth­er selec­tion reveal anoth­er Israel?” 

One of the more telling and con­vinc­ing aspects of Levinson’s study is her con­cern about the lin­ger­ing phal­lo­cen­tric­i­ty of the found­ing gen­er­a­tion, a con­di­tion kept alive by the per­ni­cious influ­ence of the Ortho­dox reli­gious estab­lish­ment. It is also, in her view, kept alive by the mil­i­taris­tic cul­ture that has grown up with the nation.

Pro­fes­sor Levinson’s dis­cus­sion of The Ongo­ing Shad­ow of the Holo­caust,” which cen­ters on her read­ings of Kaniuk’s work, reminds us of the his­tor­i­cal dilem­ma of the Jew­ish state. Can it ever free itself from being seen (and lived) as a guilt-lever­aged pay­back for the Holo­caust as well as the ful­fill­ment of an ancient promise? Can — or should — the ther­a­peu­tic mad­ness of Kaniuk’s pro­tag­o­nist in Adam Res­ur­rect­ed be seen as a pre­scrip­tion for — or proph­esy of — the future?

Chap­ter end notes, index, references.

Relat­ed Content:

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

Discussion Questions