Category Archives: Israeli Literature

Dan Pagis Again

כתוב בעפרון בקרון החתום
דן פגיס

כאן במשלוח הזה
אני חוה
עם הבל בני
אם תראו את בני הגדול
קין בן אדם
תגידו לו שאני

I’ve taken the liberty of posting the original Hebrew version of this poem, which, for some reason, is haunting me this week. I can’t get past the impossibility of translating the plural ‘you’ that is embedded in the Hebrew verbs ‘Tagidu‘ and ‘Tiru‘. How does one convey that in English? To simply say ‘you’ doesn’t imply nearly the same amount of weight as the pluralised Hebrew forms of the word. The native meaning is so central to the essence of this poem, to its heaviness, its warnings.

I find myself stuck on the solitary image of Eve, in Hebrew ‘Em Kol Chai’ (the mother of all of life), in the midst of a world populated by men. It is her voice that we are hearing in this poem, but it is confounded by the reverberations implicit in her dual status as Mother of all and specifically as Mother to Cain and Abel. The simplicity of the statement ‘I am Eve’ is central to this image that Pagis creates of Eve alone. She is anchored in this place, perhaps the anchor itself, and although she has clearly lost control of her fate, she is, nonetheless, wielding a conviction or faith (emunah) that sees her tone remain calm and focused. I am Eve. It is as though she is reinforcing her identity, her belief in herself and in her G-d, her awareness that while her physical self may die, her essence is eternal. I am Eve – here, there, everywhere.

Eve.

It is enough to just say her name. It needs no adjectives, nothing to enhance its meaning. I am Eve.

The others in this poem exist only in terms of their relationship to this universal mother. Abel is known only as ‘bni‘, my son. Without her he does not have a self, he is metaphorically lost. Cain (whose name sounds ironically like the ‘kan’ – here – which starts the poem) is absent, divorced from the fate of his mother and brother, perhaps in part responsible for that collective fate. Nonetheless, he is still considered as Eve’s son, differentiated by the adjective ‘hagadol‘ – the eldest – and by his connection to Adam. Cain is ‘ben adam‘, literally, the son of Adam and also a man (the Hebrew has two meanings). What does this mean? How does this relate to the function of this poem as a warning to Cain or to all that he represents?

If the poem is Eve’s message from the grave that even the sinners should never forget that she is their mother, how do we reconcile Eve’s own sin in the Garden of Eden?

What do you read in this poem?

And, what do you make of the fact that the only connection that this poem holds linguistically to the Holocaust is its title?

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Eden, Yael Hedaya

This book is on my imagined ‘must-read’ pile. I can’t recall where I stumbled upon it but I have just read an excerpt and am suitably intrigued – by both the book and the online magazine which provided it! Needless to say, I am now a subscriber to Zeek, said online magazine and am looking forward to reading some new and different things!!

Almost Dead

What does one say about Assaf Gavron’s book ‘Almost Dead’? I’ve been pondering this review for a few days now. It is such a complex and disturbing text that it is difficult to know where to begin and whether, indeed, the author has achieved any sort of textual integrity in this text.

To start with, the book’s premise itself is complex – half the text is devoted to the narrative of an Israeli who narrowly escapes from three terrorist attacks in one week in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The other half of the book tells the story of the brother of the mastermind behind these attacks who has been coaxed into joining the struggle and enlisted to perform the final attack much against his will and his conscience. If this isn’t a challenging enough structure, Gavron complicates things further by narrating the Arab protagonist in a series of stream of consciousness recollections for, as readers discover through the telling, he is in a coma following his failed final attack.

Behind this complex dialogue between Arab and Israeli, thrown in the mix are a romance, friendship and a bit of detective work.

It is a lot to cover and for the first part of the book I was unsure if the author was going to meet this challenge. I actually found myself wondering if I had missed something central, feeling lost in the confusion of the various strands of narratives and the way they were woven together.

However, by the end of this tale, I was hooked. Gavron has achieved something monumental here and I was enthralled to read the internal thoughts of these characters. Interestingly, I think that he captured the Arab protagonist with more clarity than he did the Israeli who seemed far more self absorbed and concerned with his emotions than his counterpart. In itself this is an interesting comment to make about Israeli society which perhaps has the freedom to be self absorbed.

Strangely enough I found these characters to be very believable and this story itself not too far fetched. But, it is a weighty subject and although captivating, quite disturbing. Readers would have to be in the right frame of mind to tackle this one, but well worth it I would say!

Click here to buy from Amazon: Almost Dead: A Novel

Almost Dead

I stumbled across the most wonderful story by an Israeli writer, Assaf Gavron. I have never heard of him before and I have the website “Words Without Borders” to thank for the introduction.

Apparently he is well published in Hebrew and is translator to the works of Jonathan Safran Foer (a favourite of mine), amongst others.

http://www.wordswithoutborders.org features an interesting piece by Gavron entitled “Almost Dead“. I’ve just read it and am still digesting. It’s incredibly confronting and gives a real indication of what life is like for ordinary people (in this case, Israelis), living in a state of terror. The fear in this piece is staggering and the questioning that goes along with that fear is incomprehensible to anyone living outside this state of existence:

“Why is everyone so paranoid in this country? Can’t dark guys get on buses with suit bags any more?” says the protagonist in this story. As the story unfolds, the answers to these rhetorical questions are clear.

I am in awe of the subtleness of this author and the delicate way that he has dealt with this complex issue.

According to Geraldine Brooks:

Assaf Gavron has done the impossible: written a darkly funny novel about suicide bombing. In a dazzling display of empathy, Gavron creates two equally compelling narrators, the bomber and his victim. This is a virtuoso work; a pitch-perfect rendering of real Israeli life in all its chaos, energy, humour and terror. I couldn’t put it down.”

This is just an extract from the novel and I cannot recommend it enough. Looking forward to hearing your views!

If you like this author as much as I do then you might be interested in his website.