Personal Best

"Dyukan/2: Avraham B. Yehoshua" ("Portrait/2: Avraham B. Yehoshua") by Yotam Reuveni, Nimrod Publishing, 84 pages, NIS 39.

Dorit Hop
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Dorit Hop

Two conversations between Yotam Reuveni and the writer, current affairs commentator, playwright and intellectual A.B. Yehoshua are provided to the reader in a slim, modest and thought-provoking book.

The conversations, held at Yehoshua's home on the Carmel in Haifa on October 24 and November 25, 2002, give vivid expression - full of Yehoshua's typical fervor - to the subjects that fill the story of his life: There is a retrospective and illuminating look back at the four decades of the continuing creativity of a prolific artist, accompanied by brief excursions into childhood memories that had not yet been related; discussion of the influences of other writers on his work (among them S.Y. Agnon, Yehuda Amichai, Franz Kafka, James Faulkner, Anton Chekhov, Lev Tolstoy and James Joyce); characteristics of his ars poetica; Israeli society, its historical origins and its stormy, painful and continuing present; and Israeli identity, the separation between religion and nationality, relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, of course, the birth of Zionism as the turning point in Jewish history and its implications.

Even for those who have followed Yehoshua's work during the past 46 years, as seen in his many writings, another adventure in reading is waiting from the "eternally sudden" writer. From the Carmelite perspective on his life as an organic whole, Yehoshua observes his work in all areas and, as is his wont, links together his personal life, his worldview, his writing of fiction and commentary on public affairs and his political outlook: "I really am known among writers as someone who knots long strings together. I sew my suit with very long threads."

The book before us is an example of the nature of this tight knotting between the many aspects that make up the portrait of the artist. Sometimes Yehoshua ties together childhood memories and literary choices, as between the oppressive feeling of spreading disaster that pervades one of his early stories "Yattir's Night March," and an incident from the period of the War of Independence, when Yehoshua was stricken by terrible anxiety when his father had to leave home for his army unit (which engaged in wiretapping the Arab telephone network in Jerusalem) on the night of a bombardment. The following day it turned out that his pleadings, which delayed the father's departure from the house for a short while, may have saved his life: Upon his arrival at the unit's hiding place, the father found large patches of the blood of someone who had arrived there before him.

And sometimes he looks at his work as a whole from within the prism of connections. Thus, for example, there is Yehoshua's precise choices of the profession of his main characters because "the profession is a part of the person, a part of his identity" with the psychoanalytic ideas he holds: "I see this in the work of psychoanalysis. The world is not as random as it appears to be at first glance. Things are connected, like in the physical organism."

Taking responsibility

In the same way, Yehoshua takes pains with the opening paragraphs of his works, because "the organic seed of the entire book is already found in the first lines." And thus the development of their nature can be characterized. Another example of this characteristic is expressed in Yehoshua's explanation of the connection between the structure of his book "The Lover," which is made up of monologues by the six characters who populate its pages, and the Israeli reality of the 1970s, a reality of multiple voices and narratives.

In the social-political realm, Yehoshua's need to tie together all areas of life is also evident. Thus, for example, there is the Gordian knot of his existentialist view of the world and his political views: "I always have a clear feeling, and this too is connected to my political positions, that things are given to repair ... You are very much responsible for some of the things, and this responsibility can be realized."

And even though the individual's responsibility for his fate is not absolute, of course, Yehoshua sees it as incumbent on him to examine critically the notion of "the Jewish fate," which is condemned to return again and again to the familiar and destructive patterns of existence. In his interpretation, Zionism gave this outlook suitable expression when it decided to take responsibility for "the Jewish fate" and to rescue the Jewish people from the passivity that is derived from the perception of fate.

This same outlook, which is also at the basis of his way of dealing with the Palestinian issue, has drawn him barrages of criticism. In this matter, too, Yehoshua argues that the Israeli side bears the responsibility of self-knowledge, the result of which, it is to be hoped, will be taking responsibility for its part in the prolonged conflict.

In these two leisurely conversations, part of which I have discussed in this review, Reuveni does a fine job of finding a path into the depths of the soul of the man and the artist and to share the route of this fascinating journey with the reader.

Dorit Hop is a psychologist.