Israeli Author Yoram Kaniuk Dies of Cancer Aged 83

The prize-winning novelist passed away in his hometown of Tel Aviv. He fought in Israel's 1948 War of Independence, and this period was the inspiration for much of his later work.

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Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk died after a long battle with cancer yesterday at Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv. The renowned writer was 83.

Kaniuk was born in Tel Aviv on May 2, 1930. The list of people associated with his early childhood reads like a who’s who of the early days of Tel Aviv’s cultural life and society. His father, Moshe Kaniuk, was the personal secretary of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, and became the first curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His godfather was the poet Haim Nahman Bialik; his kindergarten teacher was the wife of pioneer and poet Joseph Haim Brenner; his school doctor was the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky.

In his youth, he was a member of the prestate Jewish underground Palmach, and was part of the Palyam − the Palmach’s naval force. He fought in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a time of his life that provided much inspiration for his later work.

However, Kaniuk, with his experiences in the War of Independence − including his encounters with the ships bringing Holocaust refugees to the country − was not easily accepted into Israel’s literary society. Young people, though, loved his work, his language, his wild side, his critiques, the fact that he was a nonconformist − a part of which was the fact he did not portray the sabra in the usual, accepted way.

In 1960, he published the first of his 17 novels, “The Acrophile,” which was translated into English the following year. The hallmark of Kaniuk’s writing has been described as his experimentalism and his ability to write from different places each time. One of his best-known novels is “Adam Resurrected,” published in Hebrew in 1969, which explored the Holocaust.

In 2010, Kaniuk published the book “1948,” which went on to receive Israel’s top literary award, the Sapir Prize. Kaniuk was also the recipient of the Haim Brenner Prize, the President’s Prize, and the Bialik Prize.

In 1997, Kaniuk was awarded the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic, and, last year, was named an Officer in France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

In 2009, in an interview with Haaretz, Kaniuk said: “I am not ‘our’ writer; I am ‘my’ writer. I don’t write in the name of something and I am very rude sometimes. Once you wrote about me that I’m a brat, and I actually liked that. I never went along the main path. I never found it.”

Among Kaniuk’s other books are: “Himmo King of Jerusalem”; “Rocking Horse”; “The Last Jew”; “His Daughter”; “Post Mortem”; “Life on Sandpaper”; and “The Last Berliner.” His books were translated into numerous languages.

Kaniuk donated his body to science. He wrote about the decision in Haaretz: “I donated my body to science so that I will continue to exist a few years after I die, and the young doctors will learn about me what doctors know these days about what they do. In my mind, for a moment I gained a few more years, and like Moses, no one knew my burial place because I made sure there would not be one. And from this, my descendants will benefit.”

Author Yoram Kaniuk in 2009. Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

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