Israeli Writers & Their Problems
Every country is endowed with a characteristic feature by which you can easily identify it. Russia has its steppes, Italy has its gondolas. But what is the distinctive feature of this country? Perhaps there is nothing really authentic about you or the life you lead; perhaps it is an unreal life. . . .
-Yitzhak Shenhar, “Country Town.”
THE RECENT AMERICAN reissue of A Whole Loaf,* Sholom J. Kahn’s anthology of Israeli fiction, raises a number of questions about the kind of literature that is being created in Israel. The most obvious fact about this collection of stories-and about the Israeli literary scene as well-is that it is not a whole loaf at all, but two loaves so different from each other that they hardly seem to have been baked in the same oven. The organization of material in the Kahn collection is itself partly a concession to the profound disparity that exists between two broad modes of fiction practiced in Israel today. The first half of the anthology is devoted to “Wars and Independence” and mainly represents the younger generation of Israeli writers, that is, writers still under the age of forty when the volume was originally published in Tel Aviv in 1957. The second half of the book, entitled “Backgrounds,” is, with one exception, the work of the older literary generation. It is ironically appropriate that this second section should be bracketed with two stories by S. Y. Agnon. For though the seventy-four-year-old master of Hebrew fiction was nurtured in roughly the same cultural environment as the other writers of his generation, his moral and artistic concerns and his technical virtuosity lead him both further back and further forward than his close contemporaries; he is at once more distant than they and closer to the younger writers.
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