Lives in Dis­guise: Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Fiction

Ger­shon Shaked
  • Review
By – August 10, 2012

This inter­est­ing mixed bag of con­tem­po­rary (here called mod­ern) Hebrew lit­er­a­ture rep­re­sents the effort of Matthew Miller, pub­lish­er of The Toby Press, work­ing in con­junc­tion with the Insti­tute for the Trans­la­tion of Hebrew Lit­er­a­ture, to bring out anoth­er series of MHL, direct­ed at read­ers out­side Israel. The first vol­ume in the new series of this well – estab­lished pub­li­ca­tion con­tains a live­ly and freely — even coarse­ly— expres­sive sam­pling of what has been hap­pen­ing in the lit­er­ary arts and dai­ly liv­ing itself in Israel (most­ly). Includ­ed here are trib­utes to Yos­sel Birstein, a pro­lif­ic writer in Hebrew and Yid­dish, who died in 2003; excerpts from Hebrew nov­els recent­ly pub­lished; a longer sto­ry by Yoav Alvin; an essay by Ger­shon Shaked (which com­pares Amos Oz’s biog­ra­phy with the life sto­ries of Haim Gouri, Yoram Kaniuk, and Aharon Appelfeld); poet­ry; and book reviews. 

The fic­tion selec­tions over­all paint col­or­ful, intrigu­ing pic­tures of Israeli life. Their lit­er­ary qual­i­ty tes­ti­fies to the rich, racy, nuanced ver­sion of our ancient tongue, remind­ing us that Jews any­where should not be expect­ed to be angels or paragons. Yoav Alvin’s My Broth­er Me” reveals a dys­func­tion­al fam­i­ly with ter­ri­ble secrets, liv­ing on the mar­gin of decen­cy and sur­vival. Yoram Kaniuk’s I Did It My Way” is a vignette about bohemi­an liv­ing in (yes) the Vil­lage and there­abouts — a cubist” equiv­a­lent of artists’ desta­bi­lized social pat­tern­ing as a sub­cul­ture in soci­ety. But these exam­ples are teas­er sam­plings. Miller’s entire col­lec­tion is rich­ly rewarding.

Samuel I. Bell­man is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Cal­i­for­nia State Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty of Pomona. He has been writ­ing on Jew­ish Amer­i­can writ­ers since 1959.

Discussion Questions