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Israeli literary great A.B. Yehoshua dies, aged 85

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A.B. Yehoshua, a fiery humanist, towering author, and staunch advocate of Zionism as the sole answer for the Jewish condition, died on June 14, 2022. He was 85 years old.

His wife, Ika, a psychoanalyst, predeceased him in 2016. He is survived by his three children, Sivan, Gideon, and Nahum.

A writer, essayist, and playwright, Yehoshua was the 1995 recipient of Israel’s top cultural award, the Israel Prize, along with dozens of other awards, including the Bialik Prize and the Jewish National Book Award, and his work was translated into 28 languages.

His work was structurally innovative and narratively traditional. There were no chapter-long sentences in his novels and no preposterous quests sapped of all plot. Instead, one was likely to receive a raw exploration of a flawed but likable protagonist, a patient, humor-laden style, and a dark storyline that deftly held the reader to the page. The sentences were long and complex, nested with meaning, and the heart of the stories could often be found in dialogue. He spoke frequently and adoringly of William Faulkner as an example of an author he admired.

Prof. Nitza Ben-Dov, an Israel Prize-winning scholar of literature, says that while his literary work shifted notably over the years, from surrealist stories to realist novels, he remained, above all, attuned to the society in which he lived. “He was very rooted to this place,” she said. “Practically a Canaanite.”

Several of his greatest works arguably came to define the era in which they were published. “Facing the Forests,” released in 1968, at the apex of the post-Six Day War euphoria, is to this day widely seen as the most arresting exploration of the Palestinian Nakba in Hebrew literature, signaling an awakening among his generation; and his first novel, “The Lover,” published in 1977, managed to herald the seismic shift in Israeli society with the rise of the Likud to power and the decline of the Laborite and largely Ashkenazi left. (Yehoshua’s fiction was translated by Philip Simpson, Hillel Halkin, Nicholas de Lange, Stuart Schoffman, and others.)

Politically, on the enduring question of Palestinian statehood, his views, unlike those of many of his peers, were subject to change. After years of unbridled advocacy for a two-state solution, he broke with the tribe in 2016 and declared that the future lay in some sort of “joint endeavor.” He was not firm on the parameters of the sought-after arrangement but made clear that it would include equal rights for Palestinians.

On the matter of Judaism and the centrality of Israel, he shifted not at all. Despite howls of protest from Jewish communities abroad, he repeatedly stated that all Jews living outside the state of Israel were “partial Jews” and that even those who spent all their waking hours poring over texts and observing commandments were less Jewish than their brethren in Israel, where taxes and defense and incarceration, and every element of daily life, is determined by Jews.

In 2006, in an essay submitted to the American Jewish Committee, he denied engaging in a “negation of the Diaspora.” Jewish communities in exile, he noted waspishly, have been around since Babylonian times, some 2,500 years ago, and will almost certainly endure for thousands of years into the future. Instead, it is Israel, home to only half of the world’s Jews, that is always perched near the precipice of extinction. Exasperated with this enduring situation, he wrote: “I have no doubt that in the future when outposts are established in outer space, there will be Jews among them who will pray ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ while electronically orienting their space synagogue toward Jerusalem on the globe of the earth.”

Abraham Gabriel Yehoshua, known to many........

© The Times of Israel

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