Right to Left: Survival stories

Arad weaves together the tragic-comic stories of her characters and their failings and flaws.

Maya Arad 88  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Maya Arad 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hapardes, Mishlei Bakbukim, Pundako shel Yirmiyahu (The Orchard; Bottle Parables; Jeremiah's Inn) By Benjamin Tammuz Yedioth Aharonot/Hemed Books 302 pages; NIS 88 Three novellas by the late novelist/art critic/sculptor Benjamin Tammuz have been newly edited by Yedioth Aharonot Books. All three novellas - "The Orchard," "Bottle Parables" and "Jeremiah's Inn" - deal with the Israeli situation before, during and after the state is founded. "The Orchard" was written in 1972. It tells the story of the development and fate of an orchard near Jaffa, through the eyes of a Jewish farmer. The orchard is owned by two step-brothers, one born of a Muslim mother and one of a Jewish mother, but both with the same Jewish father. The orchard is used as a symbol of "resurrection and destruction" in the land of Israel, from the time of the Ottoman Empire to the war with Egypt in 1956. It focuses on the changing relation between Arab and Jew, from relatively untroubled in the early years to murderous as the century proceeds. In "Bottle Parables," Tammuz deals with the issue of Jewish identity after the Holocaust and what he sees as the place of Judaism in Western culture. It is the story of an assimilated Jew who lives in London and works as an art dealer and muralist. The man meets a Holocaust survivor, who brings him salvation from his depressing life. The survivor expounds his views on the essence of Judaism and claims that the natural place of the Jews is in the Diaspora and not in a country of their own, because their spirituality and intellectuality preserve Western culture from decline. When it was written, "Jeremiah's Inn" was considered a fantastic horror story that describes the state after the establishment of a religious dictatorship. This novella evoked great critical interest when it was published in 1984. The Russian-born, Israeli-raised Tammuz was considered among the most important Israeli writers of his generation. He was the winner of several literary prizes and saw his books published in 11 languages. Tammuz died in 1989 in Tel Aviv. Tmunot Mishpaha (Family Pictures) By Maya Arad Xargol 263 pages; NIS 84 Maya Arad's latest book, Family Pictures, also comprises three novellas. Arad weaves together the tragic-comic stories of her characters and their failings and flaws. In her previous critically acclaimed best seller, Seven Moral Failings, she examined the amusing aspects of academic life. Now, Arad turns her attention on the more intimate and sensitive realm of family life. Her writing is packed with irony and surprises. In the first story, the hero, an aspiring writer, tries to break free of his father's shadow (his father is a well-known writer). The second tale is about a man who lives in the US and comes to visit his family in Israel who want him/threaten him with bombshells to return home for good. The third story tells of a mother-son relationship during a trip to Paris. In all of the stories Arad writes about the love, loneliness, and fear present among family relationships. It is not surprising that Arad writes both about Israel and being abroad. The writer grew up in Kibbutz Nahal Oz and is currently a lecturer at Stanford University in California. Her first book, Another Place, a Foreign City, won the Ministry of Education and Culture award. Last year it was performed as a play at the Cameri Theater. Harhek MiTashkent (Far Away from Tashkent) By Nathan Shaham Zmora-Bitan 463 pages; NIS 88 One of the country's best known novelists, Nathan Shaham recently published his new book, Far Away From Tashkent. Shaham's hero is a 79-year-old widower named Mr. Igal Maor. Speaking to the Hebrew media after the release of his book, Shaham - who himself is 83 - told a reporter that he prefers writing interesting books about boring characters rather than tiresome stories about exciting characters. And while Maor is not the typical male protagonist, he is not quite the dreary personality either. Shaham's novel tells of Maor, an income-tax inspector, who decides to move into an assisted housing complex after the death of his wife. While packing up his house, he comes across a leather satchel filled with documents he never knew existed. The documents tell of secret periods of her adolescence in Tashkent during the Holocaust. Shaham's novel tells the lost stories of those Jews from the Soviet Union who escaped to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries before German troops marched into their towns and villages. The award-winning Shaham has more than 40 books to his name and has seen his work translated into half a dozen languages.