Fic­tion

The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land: Stories

By – April 18, 2022

In his debut short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Omer Fried­lan­der probes Israeli soci­ety through the lens of the man­i­fold peo­ple who inhab­it it. Sto­ries about Israel often touch upon the famil­iar: check­points, manda­to­ry con­scrip­tion, the echo of the Shoah. Fried­lan­der both dis­plays and sub­verts these motifs, por­tray­ing the diverse expe­ri­ences of Israel with­out cast­ing judg­ment on any one perspective.

Fried­lan­der sets the tone with Jaf­fa Oranges,” a sto­ry about a Jew­ish own­er of an orange grove who recalls an Arab friend from his youth when the man’s grand­daugh­ter sud­den­ly appears. It is a great selec­tion for the first sto­ry, exem­pli­fy­ing Friedlander’s prowess with sub­tle yet evoca­tive lan­guage and his empa­thy for all kinds of people.

Many of Friedlander’s char­ac­ters are con­flict­ed about what Israeli life expects of them. In Check­point,” a peacenik moth­er grieves for her son killed in com­bat as she mon­i­tors the check­points for signs of the Israeli Defense Force’s mis­be­hav­ior: I have sent my son off to be killed in a war I don’t believe in, fight­ing for a gov­ern­ment I hate.” Fried­lan­der demon­strates the anguish Israelis must endure while also crit­i­ciz­ing the treat­ment of Pales­tini­ans. Though the sto­ry does not sole­ly cen­ter around the con­flict, the bru­tal­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion pro­vides the land­scape, and it is not left unexamined.

Alte Sachen” takes a lighter, more humor­ous tone, even when tack­ling a seri­ous sub­ject. The sto­ry fol­lows two broth­ers who pluck an addled old man off the streets and pre­tend he is their Holo­caust-sur­vivor grand­fa­ther to their class, who are all pre­sent­ing sur­vivors of their own. Buoyed by irrev­er­ence, Alte Sachen” deft­ly por­trays the way the Shoah informs con­tem­po­rary Israeli soci­ety, and the line it draws between Ashke­naz­im and Sephardim.

For those look­ing to under­stand the intri­ca­cies of Israeli life, The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land pro­vides an excel­lent immer­sion. Fried­lan­der is grace­ful and lyri­cal in his explo­ration of his home­land, cri­tiquing the vio­lence of the his­tor­i­cal and present-day sit­u­a­tion while nev­er com­ing across as heavy-hand­ed. Ulti­mate­ly, he gives read­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make their own assess­ments of this unique world. Fried­lan­der is fol­low­ing the lin­eage of bril­liant, under­stat­ed Israeli writ­ers like Amos Oz and David Gross­man in cap­tur­ing the par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of Israel through intel­li­gent prose and sub­tle characterizations.

Ariel­la Carmell is the Edi­tor-at-Large of the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, where she stud­ied lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy. Her writ­ings have appeared in Alma, the Sier­ra Neva­da Review, the Brook­lyn Review, and elsewhere. 

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Omer Friedlander