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.
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.