Coming soon (by July 1) in Shofar, a special issue on contemporary Israeli literature, edited by Rachel S. Harris.
Shofar is available on JSTOR and Project Muse.
Hebrew in English: The New Transnational Hebrew Literature
by Melissa Weininger
Although the historiography of Hebrew literature has often retrospectively portrayed its development as an Israeli phenomenon, recent scholarship has shown the ways in which Hebrew literature’s origins lie largely in the Diaspora. Two new books by Israeli writers written in English, Shani Boianjiu’s The People of Forever Are Not Afraid and Ayelet Tsabari’s The Best Place on Earth, return to the diasporic roots of Hebrew literature by deliberately placing themselves as a challenge to the Zionist narrative of literary historiography. This article elaborates the ways that these books use English to explore the transnational nature of Hebrew literature and participate in a larger literary conversation about globalization. Their linguistic experimentation is also tied to the thematic challenges they pose to foundational Israeli mythologies, like that of the New Hebrew Man, through an emphasis on marginal characters and themes. This literature, which I call “Hebrew in English,” stands as a critique of hegemonic constructions of Israeli identity, nationalism, and culture.
Between the Backpack and the Tent: Home, Zionism, and a New Generation in Eshkol Nevo’s Novels Homesick and Neuland
by Rachel S. Harris
The relationship between travel and home are given new life in the novels of Eshkol Nevo. Framing the contemporary reality in narratives that explore Zionism, travel, and social activism, Nevo offers a conception of the new generation of Israeli writers torn between an Israeli identity, with its increasingly inclusive and polyethnic state, and a Jewish identity with its diasporic roots.
A Spatial Identity Crisis: Space and Identities in Nir Baram’s Novels
by Vered Weiss
The following article focuses on the use of spatial metaphors, and the presence (or absence) of Jewish-Israeli identities in Nir Baram’s novels, offering an overview of his work and locating it within a Hebrew literary tradition. In order to explore individual and collective identities in a (post)modern world, Baram makes extensive and elaborate use of spatial metaphors, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, tampering with the stable organization of the world, and presenting homes that offer neither shelter nor warmth. The various characters in Baram’s texts—Israeli or not—are either homeless or otherwise displaced, yearning for a home they cannot fully comprehend or construct. The defamiliarization of space in Baram’s work creates the sense that Jewish-Israeli identities are implicitly present even when they are explicitly absent, and detached when they are, indeed, overtly present. This elusiveness seems to be the core of Jewish-Israeli identities as they manifest, or are alluded to, in Baram’s work.
Where You Are From: The Poetry of Vaan Nguyen
by Adriana X. Jacobs
In her debut collection The Truffle Eye (2014), the Vietnamese-Israeli poet Vaan Nguyen brings a mix of cultural and linguistic affiliations to her Hebrew writing that is arguably standard in today’s multilingual and multicultural Israeli society, particularly in the cosmopolitan milieu of Tel Aviv, where she locates much of her work. But as the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who have settled in Israel, Vaan also engages and challenges—through the double position of the insider/outsider—the discourse of exile and return and the politics of memory in Israeli culture. In the 2005 film The Journey of Vaan Nguyen, the Israeli filmmaker Duki Dror offered a nuanced portrait of the friction between Nguyen’s Israeli and Vietnamese identities and her family’s Israeli present and Vietnamese past. In this article, I address how Vaan negotiates and articulates her double position through a close examination of scenes from the film and selections from The Truffle Eye. Against the problematic reception and reading of her poetry as exotic, I argue that the cosmopolitan and transnational movements that shape her work evince a characteristically twenty-first century Israeli mode of travel and translation.
The Shape of Time in Microfiction: Alex Epstein and the Search for Lost Time
by Adam Rovner
This article presents a general theory of microfiction that focuses on the formal elements of the genre’s poetics. My analysis argues that a symmetry exists between microfiction’s contracted spatialization, and the compression—and hence violation—of temporal norms of the reader’s anticipation. The violation of conventional reading anticipation makes microfiction seem not only to be new but also transgressive. Indeed, much microfiction is transgressive of prevailing ideologies of time that are premised on the existence of contingency and the efficacy of human agency. This article takes the work of Israeli microfiction author Alex Epstein as its touchstone while advancing a framework for a theory of the genre.
Alon Hilu and the Hebrew Historical Novel
by Shai P. Ginsburg
In this paper, I discuss Alon Hilu’s two historical novels, Death of a Monk (2004) and The Dejani Estate (2008), as symptomatic of Israeli culture of the twenty-first century. I argue that the question of genre—historical fiction—is as central to the construction of the novels as it is to their reception. As the latter evinces, historical fiction is perceived as blurring the proper boundaries between the “objective” and the imaginary and thus feeds anxieties about the relationship of Jews to history, anxieties that have been haunting Zionist discourses from their inception. Hilu’s novels trace these anxieties to concerns about sexuality and desire and employ them to explore the relationship between two central foci of the Hebrew historical novel, namely, historical agency and historical writing. The novels construct numerous “scenes of writing,” in which writing seeks to retrieve historical agency, embodied in the two novels by desire and sexual potency. Simultaneously, writing is revealed as a mere substitute for desire and sex. Both novels consequently suggest that writing attests to the failure to produce historical agency.
Femininity and Authenticity in Ethiopia and Israel: Asfu Beru’s A Different Moon
by Adia Mendelson-Maoz
This article discusses the work of the female Ethiopian-Israeli author Asfu Beru, whose collection of stories, Yare’ah Aher (A Different Moon) was published in 2002. The small corpus of contemporary Hebrew literature by Ethiopian-Jewish immigrants in Israel usually focuses on the narrative of homecoming and the journey to “Yerussalem,” while often viewing the African space retrospectively in utopian terms. By contrast, the stories in Beru’s collection are set in Ethiopia and do not deal with the journey or immigration to Israel. They depict a rigid traditional society that the protagonist, an adolescent female in many of the stories, has to confront. This article analyzes the convoluted relationship between multiculturalism and feminism through Beru’s hyphenated identity as a member of a traditional society, a woman, a Jew, and a Black, but who identifies at times with the hegemonic Israeli-Western perspective and takes a critical stance toward traditional Ethiopian society.
Settlers versus Pioneers: The Deconstruction of the Settler in Assaf Gavron’s The Hilltop
by Yaakov Herskovitz
This paper engages in a close reading of settlers, settlements, and the portrayal of settler ideology in the novel The Hilltop. This trailblazing novel from 2013, written by Assaf Gavron, foregrounds the image of the settlers in the West Bank and their relationship to the State of Israel. The paper explores this relationship through a discussion of settler ideology and how this set of beliefs comperes to Zionist ideology at large. Thus, the images of the settler and of Zionist pioneers are coupled and reexamined.