The Invention of the Jewish People

Author: Shlomo Sand
Verso Books, 2009
ISBN: 1844674223

This is a somewhat paradoxical book: undoubtedly important – yet it contains little that is new. Written by a professional academic historian, it is about history and historiography – but not in his established field of expertise. Shlomo Sand is professor at Tel-Aviv University, specializing in modern European, particularly French, history. He is not even in the ‘right’ academic department to concern himself with the subject of this book: in Israeli universities, Jewish History and ‘General’(!) History are taught in two quite separate departments. In this book, Sand sets out to debunk widespread Zionist myths about the origin of the Jews, and who they are. Zionism modelled itself on 19th century eastern- and central-European nationalisms: it regarded itself as the nationalism of the Jews. The ideological project of any nationalism is to invent, as it were, the nation for which it claims to speak: to provide it with a narrative of common origin, homeland and destiny. This is then used to claim possession of, and sovereignty over, the homeland.
Shlomo Sand’s book is a highly readable account – more readable in the excellent English translation by the late Yael Lotan than in the original inelegant Hebrew of the author – of the historical facts outlined above and of the attempts of Zionist historiography to wriggle its way around or out of them.

(Moshé Machover, Race & Class, January 2011)

Trumpet in the Wadi

Author: Sami Michael
Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
ISBN-13: 9780743261487

Set in Haifa just before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, this spirited, bittersweet novel captures the Arab-Israeli conflict in microcosm. The seaside city is home to a family of Christian Arabs: irascible Elias, the patriarch; his busy daughter-in-law, Umm-Huda; and her fatherless daughters, the beautiful Mary and her older, deplorably still unwed sister Huda. Also living in their crowded building in the wadi, or Arab quarter, is newcomer Alex, short in stature but well-muscled, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who plays his trumpet soulfully in the building's rooftop shed. His music, patience and remarkable physique awaken the interest of reticent Huda, while Mary rejects the advances of Zuhair, the son of their shady Muslim landlord, for the security of plodding Wahid, her Muslim cousin. A trip taken by the two couples to the Red Sea resort of Eilat is an uproarious highlight, and a visit by Huda and Alex to a nursing home to see Alex's ailing but tyrannical mother is a striking set-piece. The translation is occasionally stiff, and Michael tends toward over-explanation, but the novel deals cleverly and humorously with complicated relationships. Against the tragic backdrop of current events, the willingness of Michael's characters to ignore the strictures of individual religious beliefs and to shun fanaticism, is refreshing, though perhaps increasingly hard to credit. (Aug.)
(Publishers Weekly)
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Strand of a Thousand Pearls

Author: Dorit Rabinyan
Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN-10: 0375760032
ISBN-13: 978-0375760037

Rabinyan's second novel (after the international bestseller Persian Brides) maintains an expert balance between lyricism and tough-mindedness. Like Isaac Babel in his Odessa short stories, she knows that a metaphor is not an ornament, but rather a probe (or even a bullet) into the heart. For instance, here is how we are introduced to a rich businessman: "in those days he was squeezing money and tears out of almost every nation in Africa. He began his business career by importing hollow gold jewelry, but by the time he met Sofia he had already become a major purveyor of tear-gas." The Sofia in question is one of the four Azizyan daughters, the beauty of the family. Iran, the mother of this brood, and Solly, their fisherman father, are both Persian-speaking emigrants to Israel. The story is given to us as a sort of allegorical fresco it begins on the morning of Sofia's sister Matti's 11th birthday and examines, in separate insets, the weddings of the girls and their parents' pasts, returning periodically to Matti's birthday. Matti, poor girl, is half-mad, imbued with the energy and craziness of her stillborn twin brother, Moni. The other daughters Lizzie and Marcelle aren't doing so well either. Lizzie used to embarrass her mother by masturbating in public. Marcelle falls hopelessly in love at 13 with Yoel Hajjabi, finally marries him and then falls out of love with him on the day after her wedding. Matti, meanwhile, spends her birthday cutting up the family album and hiding in the backyard with the specter of her demon-lover twin. Rabinyan is a surprising writer the reader's casual expectation that her lyricism will become vapidly sentimental is agreeably disappointed by frequent instances of the coldest realism.
(Publishers Weekly) • Barnes & Noble

Samir & Yonatan

Author: Daniella Carmi
Scholastic US
ISBN-10: 0439135044
ISBN-13: 978-0439135047

A Palestinian boy comes to terms with his younger brother's death in this ... moving novel originally published in Hebrew in 1994. In homage to the bravery of his brother Fadi, who was killed by an Israeli soldier, Samir shatters his kneebone in a daredevil bicycle feat. Consequently, he must undergo a special operation at the "Jews' hospital." Samir's fever plus the sealing off of territories keeps the boy hospitalized for several weeks in a ward with four Israeli children, including Yonatan, a boy with a hand in an "iron contraption" and a head in the clouds. The author simultaneously and effectively sketches the understated friendship that develops between the pair ("Together we're two boys with three legs and three hands," says Yonatan) and uses flashbacks to reveal the details of Samir's life in the occupied West Bank, including the effect of his brother's death on his family. Some readers may find the book's climax troubling: Samir, while playing a computer game with Yonatan in which he creates a new planet where "everything is possible," comes to believe that Fadi died because "he didn't have anything to carry on with." However, the book's understated tone and detailed character development prevent its message from becoming obvious or heavyhanded. Ages 8-12.
(Publishers Weekly)

Women in a Medieval Heretical Sect: Agnes and Huguette the Waldensians

Author: Shulamith Shahar
Boydell Press
EAN: 9780851158150
ISBN: 0851158153

Agnes and Huguette were two Waldensian women who were interrogated by the inquisitional court of Pamiers, in southern France, in 1319 and subsequently burnt at the stake for their heretical beliefs. Shahar uses the records of their inquisition as a basis for an examination of the Waldensian sect's attitude towards its women members, and their role within the sect, comparing their lives with women in the Catholic church and in other sects. She finds that in a persecuted voluntary group such as the Waldensians, gender was largely immaterial, subordinate to the fervent religious commitment of the members; nor did the court of inquisition distinguish between male and female, subjecting heretics of either sex to the same horrible punishment. This is the first book-length treatment of women Waldensians, who have been almost written out of studies of the sect, but are here shown to have played a full role within it. It throws light on women and gender in medieval society as well as on one of the main heretical movements in France in the early fourteenth century.SHULAMITH SHAHAR is Professor Emeritus of Medieval History, Tel Aviv University.
(Editorial review)

Modern Hebrew Fiction

Author: Gershon Shaked
Editor: Emily Miller Budick
Indiana University Press
ISBN-10: 0253337119
ISBN-13: 978-0253337115

Modern Hebrew Fiction (Jewish Literature and Culture) is an excellent overview of the development of Hebrew literature, from the very early days of the language's revival as a spoken and written tongue in Europe, to its "normalization" as the literature Jews in their own state. Perhaps this books greatest asset is its thesis of how Hebrew fiction fluctuated between supporting the Zionist meta-script and rebelling against it. Hebrew fiction in the State of Israel could act as an agent to foster group identity and patriotic cohesion and also to illustrate alienation and subversion of the Zionist vision. The book, if anything, tends to be a bit reductive. There are too many hasty judgments in one or two paragraphs of an entire writer's work. But overall, this does not mar the book's usefulness. It is a fine outline of the development of a language and its literature.
(Eric Maroney)

Persian Brides

Author: Dorit Rabinyan
Hudson, MA, U.S.A.
ISBN: 0807614610

Winner of the Yitzhak Vinner Prize (1996)
Two Jewish girls are the center of this first novel, which describes in almost magical fashion the inhabitants of a small Persian village at the beginning of the century. Fifteen-year-old Flora Ratoryan is pregnant, and her cloth-merchant husband has abandoned her. Her 11-year-old cousin, Nasie, consoles her while wishing for her own marriage to Flora's brother, Moussa, to whom she has been betrothed since birth. The story only covers a few days in the lives of these girls, but the background of the inhabitants of this almond tree alley in the fictional village of Omerijan rounds out the picture. Vivid descriptions of cruelty (Miriam Hanoun, Flora's mother, kills cats; Moussa beats Flora unmercifully because he can't stand her laughter) and sensuality mix with the descriptions of everyday life. This may be too heady a mixture for some readers, but the storytelling is superb.?
(Library Journal)

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The Great Madness

Author: Avigdor Hameiri
Or-Ron Publishing
ISBN-10: 9652220469