Inside the kibbutz

A.H. Honza revisits the cooperative community of yesteryear

Kibbutz Alonim. [File] (photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
Kibbutz Alonim. [File]
(photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
In Clear Skies Above, author A.H. Honza weaves together images, metaphors, dreams and reality to create a reflection of Israeli society, including all the different kinds of people who don’t feel like they truly belong.
The story takes place on a kibbutz, in the early days of the Jewish State. In Honza’s description of life in this “cooperative community,” it turns out that not everyone cooperates. And the “welcoming committee” is not really welcoming.
In bold and beautiful language, the author opens a window into his own childhood experiences with kibbutz life via the inner world of a boy growing up in the story’s communal environment – a world in which reality and imagination intertwine.
At the kibbutz children’s house, the other kids make fun of the boy and blame him for everything that goes wrong. Even the adult in charge accuses him of things he did not do, hits him, and punishes him unduly. When the boy gets older, he works on a farm, where a suicide attempt gets him sent to a mental hospital.
Throughout, the reader identifies with the boy’s emotions, and experiences a sense of merging. Honza selects each word with care as he describes the boy’s feelings: “In the evening, before he would go to sleep, he would wish with all his might that time would stand still so that he could stay home, and delay his return to that bad place – the children’s house.”
The story made me tremble as I turned the pages. The characters are so human and vulnerable as they come up against the belligerent world, and their heartrending stories evoke the reader’s empathy. It’s impossible not to feel the boy’s helplessness and a desire to jump into the book and save him.
This child, who perhaps represents Honza himself, is too scared to look anyone straight in the eye. He is too afraid to scream about how miserable he really is. He is afraid to state his opinions strongly. He is too scared even to breathe, to exist. All he wants is for someone to touch him gently, to show him a little love.
It’s natural for each individual to be different, but society doesn’t always know how to deal with people who don’t fit in. And not everyone knows how to integrate smoothly. This story describes the different stages of how people cope with the complexities of their lives, their surroundings, their thoughts and feelings. Step by step, we stumble, but we keep going. At the end of the story, the boy finally finds what the title promises – clear skies above.
This charming and exciting work of art is certain to provoke renewed debate about the strengths and the limitations of the kibbutz experience.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.