Writing a Nation: Israel at 50

In recent years, Eleanor Wachtel has travelled to Israel to explore that country's literary landscape. The authors appearing in our 1998 special series Writing a Nation: Israel at 50 discuss their literary preoccupations, ongoing issues of identity, and their feelings about the anniversary of the state.

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Series Broadcast February 15 - March 15, 1998

Author information and reading list

Many of the works discussed have not been published in English translation, but excerpts of some of the writings in translation were provided for our reference by The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature in Ramat Gan, Israel. Of the works translated into English, only books currently in print may be available through local bookstores (e.g., the mysteries of Batya Gur). We did locate some of the out-of-print books in the public and university library systems. Stores specializing in Judaica are a good source as well; they may be able to order some of the titles discussed.

Program 1: Meir Shalev and S. Yizhar

Meir Shalev--born 1948, Nahalal; satirist (weekly political column in Israeli press) and author of rich, vibrant popular novels that draw on Biblical themes and Israeli pioneer "mythology." Also writes children's books and has published a collection of essays about the Bible. The discussion focused on his 1988 novel The Blue Mountain, published in English by HarperCollins, 1993. His later novel Esau is also available from HarperCollins, and its successor, As a Few Days, is forthcoming. S. Yizhar--born 1916, Rehovot; in every sense a pioneer. Former teacher and member of parliament; considered to be Israel's most illustrious writer ("the great master of Hebrew lyrical prose"). Has made a remarkable comeback, after thirty years' silence, with new fiction that evokes his childhood. Only his early collection Midnight Convoy and Other Stories (1969) is available in (very bad!) English translation. The discussion focused on his recent work, especially the semi-autobiographical Mikdamot (Foretellings) and its continuation, Tzalhavim. Yizhar's most famous works are probably The Story of Hirbet Hiz'ah (1949) and The Days of Ziklag (1958); neither, unfortunately, available in English.

Program 2: Amos Elon and Sami Michael

Amos Elon--widely respected, Jerusalem-based critic and essayist on Israeli affairs whose work appears frequently in the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, New York Review of Books. His many books include The Israelis: Founders and Sons; Jerusalem: Battleground of Memory; biographies of Theodore Herzl and of the first Rothschild; and most recently, the essay collection A Blood-Dimmed Tide: Dispatches from the Middle East (Columbia University Press, 1997). His work is widely available in bookstores and libraries. Sami Michael--born 1926, Baghdad; fled Iraq as a Communist, first to Iran and then to Israel, in 1948. His novels and stories for both adults and children reflect the Eastern perspective. His most recent novel, Victoria (1993), is loosely based on his mother's story and was popular in Israel and abroad (but unfortunately is not available in English). The discussion focused on an earlier novel, Refuge (1977), published in English by the Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1988.

Program 3: Hannah Bat-Shahar and Samich Al Kassim

Hannah Bat-Shahar--born 1944, Jerusalem. Ultra-Orthodox background (daughter of a rabbi and married to a rabbi); writes highly acclaimed short fiction using a pseudonym and maintains dual life with equanimity. Her first collection, Stories of the Cup, received the 1987 Newman Prize for book of the year. A later collection is titled Calling the Bats (1990). Neither, unfortunately, has been translated into English. Samich Al Kassim--born 1930, Jordan; grew up in Kfar Rame, a village in the Galilee. Described as "the greatest living Palestinian poet in Israel." Was literary editor of the Communist newspaper, and now edits the leading weekly Arab newspaper, Kul Al-Arab. Chairs the Israel Association of Writers Organizations in Arabic; has published thirty books of prose, poetry and plays. The discussion focused on his long dramatic poem "The Tragedy of Houdini the Miraculous." which is published in P.E.N. Israel 1997: A Collection of Recent Writing in Israel.

Program 4: Naim Araidi Interview/Anton

Shammas Reading (*See note below) Naim Araidi--born 1950, in the Druze village of Marrar in the Galilee. Sent to Hebrew school in Haifa; went on to get a PhD in Hebrew Literature. Now teaches in Haifa and writes in both Arabic and Hebrew: has published numerous books of poetry and prose in both languages. Awards include the Prime Minister's Award; The Creativity Prize for Arabic Literature; and an honorary PhD from the World Academy for Arts and Culture. The discussion focused on several of his poems published in the P.E.N. anthology, above. A book of poetry titled Back to the Village is available in English. Anton Shammas--born 1950 in Fassuta in the Galilee; a Christian Arab who also writes in Hebrew. His stunning novel Arabesques is available in English from Harper & Row (1988). This program features an excerpt from his reading from the novel, recorded at Harbourfront's International Festival of Authors. Shammas now lives in Michigan.

Program 5: Batya Gur and Gadi Taub

Batya Gur--born 1947 in Tel Aviv ; author of a popular series of detective novels featuring fictional investigations into some of Israel's "closed societies," (e.g., the Jerusalem Psychoanalytic Society; the literature department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; the kibbutz). Also writes serious fiction and is literary critic for the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz. Her mysteries A Saturday Morning Murder, A Literary Murder and Murder on a Kibbutz: A Communal Case are available in English from HarperCollins. (Note: Library of Congress has her listed as "Goor")

Gadi Taub--32-year-old dramatist for radio and television; radio talk show host; fiction writer and cultural critic. Has earned wide acclaim for his recent essay collection, Dispirited Rebellions: Essays on Contemporary Israeli Culture. None of his work is available yet in English.

*All five tapes are available for purchase at a cost of $50.00 (or $20.00 each).

Due to copyright restrictions, the Anton Shammas reading is not included.

Please send cheque payable to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to:
CBC Writers & Company: P.O. Box 500, Station "A" Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6

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