The Landscape as Protagonist

Amos Oz has called S. Yizhar 'the most important writer in Israeli literature' S. Yizhar opens his autobiographical novel "Preliminaries" with his earliest memory, which dates back to somewhere between infancy and toddlerhood. What he remembers is orange. "Smooth like the smoothness of silk, and there was also a casual fluttering of rich orange drapes, orange to very orange." It was a tent, an army tent, he thinks, although he doesn't know what army, British or Turkish, or where his father was while his mother held him to her breast under that vast orange canopy. When he wrote, Yizhar - Yizhar Smilansky, who wrote under the name S. Yizhar - saw colors and movements and shapes before he saw people. The landscape, which for most writers is merely the background to human action, is always the protagonist in Yizhar's fiction, and the conflict that drives his stories is about why and how the land, which is ostensibly solid, fixed and permanent, changes inexorably as human beings go about their business of farming, loving and fighting. This novel, which achieved the status of a classic in Israel almost as soon as it was published in 1992, is now available in English for the first time in a fine translation by Nicholas de Lange, who has long been Amos Oz's English voice. The Toby Press is to be commended for issuing "Preliminaries," along with a collection of Yizhar's short fiction, "Midnight Convoy and Other Stories." In doing so, it gives English speakers an opportunity to sample the work of a man who is the writer's writer of modern Hebrew literature - the writer whom the country's other major authors place at the head of Israel's modern literary pantheon. Haim Watzman is the author of "Company C: An American's Life as a Citizen - Soldier in Israel" and, most recently, "A Crack in the Earth: A Journey Up Israel's Rift Valley." For full story please subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here to subscribe.