My letter from Yoram Kaniuk

The Israeli writer who died this week of cancer wrote to the opinion editor of this paper in 1997, revealing his tremendous admiration for the English language and for the 'Post.'

June 10, 2013 21:18
4 minute read.
Yoram Kaniuk

Yoram Kaniuk370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

When I opened The Jerusalem Post on June 9 and saw the headline “Writer Yoram Kaniuk succumbs to cancer at 83,” a memory came flooding back concerning this iconoclastic, stubbornly individualistic winner of literature awards and honors who has been measured against Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; whom Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat called one of the greatest authors of our time, “helping with his books to create the Israeli ethos.”

Back in 1997, when I was the Post’s opinion editor, I received a letter in English from Kaniuk which – its errors of spelling, grammar and syntax notwithstanding – may deserve a place among his work.

What emerged from the letter – passionately confirmed by the writer in a subsequent telephone conversation – was his tremendous admiration for the English language, and for this newspaper and its unique place in Israeli culture. He longed to appear in the Post’s pages. Alas, his mastery of English was inadequate.

I was sufficiently impressed, and touched, by Kaniuk’s letter to have kept it all these years, and reproduce it here, intact, without correction.

“Dear Judi,

I so wanted to write for the Post, many reasons, hard to explain, I started not long ago to get the Post in the morning, and yet, my efforts are in vain. I am not a writer who can put his words together as the logic dictate. I must be free, run, go in and out, invent while writing, get my juggling that are hidden inside before putting them in a cage of order. I can’t do it in English.

“I did not come to the Post for lack of opportunities. I have just written an article for Der Spiegel, for which I got an invitation to write another, and $2,000. The editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is here now, asked for two articles, many more in Denmark and France and lots of money. However, it is not the same; articles in your page are read here, are part of the Israeli scene BECAUSE they are written in this damned English that has words for almost everything while Hebrew is scorching ice, is sculpturing in sand, or at most chiseling in stone.

Hebrew is short, cruel, evasive, one word between love and hate, yet that what I know to do, to scorch my name on a soup [soap] bubble for its eternity in my cursed Hebrew.

“So I am sitting for the last few days, trying to write for you, get mingled in the web I have woven all by myself, seeing only glimpse of light after crawling in the dark of word searching, meaning alluding, ass paining and seeing no miracle.

“I am doom to be a Hebrew writer, to hope that my translations can do better than what I have written, and my dream of being one of your columnist, even for no money – since I was never offered any – is not possible.

“In English, I see between the words, I can’t emerge from them, or merge into them. It is very sad for me since I like to be in a paper that is a foreign territory within this culture, since I have always felt [myself] to be an outsider.

“Writing for the Post, which doesn’t try, as Hebrew papers do, to be American but to be HEBREW IN ENGLISH, which is just where I like myself to be. A stranger in my own house, which is more the house than the houses which aimed at being like Hollywood – which as you probably know, is a story of uprooted Jews from eastern Europe who were not fitted for Anglo-America, went to the west, invented an America of dreams, dreams of glory from Warsaw and Lvov, which later shaped America in their vision.

“America today is a country invented by pipe dreams of East European Jews and Israel is now trying to copy the choppy copy, so I thought that you are nearer to the core, you are what a North African Jew think Begin was – a Moroccan Jew born in Warsaw. You are the last Zionists, which I still think was great, yet when writing in BIBILAND and in his American Hebrew, I feel as if it was lost forever. In English the story of this culture still sound like Hebrew culture, not yallah buy! “So I fail. I am so sorry. This paper, I remember, The Palestine Post, which I am so proud that until today the official name remain so: The Palestine Post. This paper has made it for many years without me, so another 50 without me will not be too hard to take, but for me is another dream shutter [shattered]. I can’t be a stranger writing in a strange languish about the CHELM I was born in while thinking with the now subversive Hebrew culture which you might be the last to be guarding, in ENGLISH.

“Thank you for your patient, and all my best."


Yoram Kaniuk

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