Fic­tion

The Last Inter­view: A Novel

Eshkol Nevo, Son­dra Sil­ver­ston (trans.)

By – October 16, 2020

Eshkol Nevo’s pre­vi­ous nov­els, all best­sellers in his native Israel, affec­tion­ate­ly and acer­bical­ly cap­ture the uni­ver­sal intri­ca­cies of fam­i­ly life. Though nev­er drift­ing too far from this endur­ing theme, The Last Inter­view is at once both Nevo’s most artis­ti­cal­ly auda­cious and per­haps his most per­son­al book to date. A genre-bust­ing nar­ra­tive in the best sense, the nov­el is struc­tured as a wide-rang­ing inter­view that ini­tial­ly reads as a par­o­dy of the entire con­ven­tion of boil­er­plate author Q&As but rapid­ly evolves into a dis­qui­et­ing exam­i­na­tion of the protagonist’s soul as one dis­turb­ing rev­e­la­tion leads to the next. The result is intel­lec­tu­al­ly exhil­a­rat­ing and often ter­rif­i­cal­ly moving.

Nevo seems to have had a great deal of fun with this con­ceit, play­ing with the per­for­ma­tive nature of the protagonist’s pub­lic per­sona and the read­ers’ assump­tions about his pri­vate and pro­fes­sion­al lives. Along the way, we encounter unspar­ing por­traits of an atro­phy­ing mar­riage and oth­er rela­tion­ships, as well as amus­ing and some­times har­row­ing por­tray­als of the protagonist’s appear­ances at Israeli and inter­na­tion­al book events. Through­out this mosa­ic of col­or­ful and some­times jaw-drop­ping vignettes, one often won­ders just where the line between fic­tion and real­i­ty is crossed. Besides offer­ing provoca­tive allu­sions to Nevo’s own life cir­cum­stances and fam­i­ly lin­eage (his grand­fa­ther was Israel’s third prime min­is­ter and he also illu­mi­nates the his­tor­i­cal accom­plish­ments of the unjust­ly mar­gin­al­ized women in his fam­i­ly), The Last Inter­view pro­vides sober­ing reflec­tions on an Israel that, over time, has grown more repres­sive and impa­tient with crit­i­cal inter­ro­ga­tions of its poli­cies by artists. On the oth­er hand, when asked how he can endure life in Israel, the pro­tag­o­nist retorts: How can you live and write in a place that sum­mons up no mem­o­ries? That you don’t care about? That doesn’t infu­ri­ate you so much some­times that you want to bang your head against the wall and your fin­gers on the keyboard?”

Though long appre­ci­at­ed for his empath­ic and com­plex por­tray­als of the lives of women (the pro­tag­o­nist in this nov­el claims that his female char­ac­ters are clos­est to his own psy­che), espe­cial­ly their rich­ly imag­ined inner worlds, Nevo’s most abid­ing con­cern in many works seems to be the sus­tain­ing nature of male friend­ships. In The Last Inter­view, the pro­tag­o­nist’s rela­tion­ship with a child­hood friend dying of can­cer is par­tic­u­lar­ly mov­ing and ulti­mate­ly pro­vides the most sat­is­fy­ing thread in this tapes­try of inter­con­nect­ed thoughts. Through­out, there is a per­va­sive sense of a writer at the height of his pow­ers tak­ing stock of both him­self and his country’s soul.

The idea for this uncon­ven­tion­al approach to craft­ing a nov­el report­ed­ly came to Nevo dur­ing a frus­trat­ing hia­tus. Strug­gling to over­come writer’s block, he came up with a game in which he for­mu­lat­ed star­tling­ly unin­hib­it­ed respons­es to many of the ordi­nary queries he’d received over the years, an exper­i­ment for which we should feel grate­ful. (For the record, Nevo him­self has proved a gen­er­ous and engag­ing inter­vie­wee through­out his career.) Those encoun­ter­ing Nevo’s work for the first time will sure­ly find The Last Inter­view an irre­sistible intro­duc­tion to his ear­li­er writ­ing, while those famil­iar with his oeu­vre will find it a pro­found­ly ful­fill­ing exam­i­na­tion of the themes that run through Nevo’s life and art.

Ranen Omer-Sher­man is the JHFE Endowed Chair in Juda­ic Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Louisville and his lat­est book is Imag­in­ing the Kib­butz: Visions of Utopia in Lit­er­a­ture & Film.

Discussion Questions

The Last Inter­view recounts the life of the main char­ac­ter, an Israeli author — a touch­ing sto­ry of his mar­riage, fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships, and close friend­ships; his feel­ings about mid­dle age; and his dis­ap­point­ments and achieve­ments. Read­ers are drawn into this affect­ing and some­what uni­ver­sal­ist portrayal.

What makes The Last Inter­view stand out, how­ev­er, is its fas­ci­nat­ing self-ref­er­en­tial and frac­tal struc­ture. First of all, we nev­er direct­ly learn the protagonist’s name, though even­tu­al­ly it is revealed as Eshkol Nevo, the same name as that of the author, well-known Israeli writer (and of impec­ca­ble sabra roy­al­ty as grand­son and name­sake of Levi Eshkol). The nov­el is also told in the form of a long inter­view of the pro­tag­o­nist, him­self depict­ed as a blocked author acced­ing to the inter­view to dis­tract him­self from his fruit­less attempt to fin­ish his own novel.

All the var­i­ous voic­es are unre­li­able or at least have their own per­spec­tives. The pur­port­ed­ly same events are recount­ed sev­er­al times, each slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly, even when retold by the same per­son. We won­der what real­ly” hap­pened, and whether it’s even worth going through that exer­cise. And how much is auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, or at least what Nevo is accom­plish­ing by break­ing the fourth wall? Final­ly, The Last Inter­view is a nov­el about a nov­el­ist avoid­ing a nov­el through a jour­nal­is­tic struc­ture. Maybe jour­nal­ism is a lot clos­er to fic­tion than we think some­times, too. Espe­cial­ly when it’s not even clear whether the inter­view” itself is the nov­el form.

Final­ly, The Last Inter­view in the end rep­re­sents a work of ars poet­i­ca, a beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed com­men­tary on writ­ing itself — its dif­fi­cul­ties, the results of its suc­cess­es, and how tal­ents can van­ish as they have to be expressed through the vul­ner­a­ble instru­ment of the human spirit.