The last great Israeli writer of his generation

“Jews are too preoccupied with their past,” AB Yehoshua said in an interview with in early 2021 NRC† He was referring to the abuse that some of his compatriots make of the Shoah to justify their harsh policy towards the Palestinians. It was a typical statement for the Israeli writer and peace activist, who died of cancer in Tel Aviv on Tuesday at the age of 85.

Since 1967, Yehoshua had championed a two-state solution and the recognition of the Palestinian people. He was also a fervent opponent of the Israeli settlement policy. But as a result of the violent events of recent years, his hopes for a reconciliation between the two peoples had evaporated and he realized that a two-state solution was further away than ever. According to him, the only remedy for a solution was that religion had to be separated from state in the long run.

Along with Amos Oz, Yehoshua was one of Israel’s most important writers. His eleven novels, three collections of short stories and four plays are world literature. Thanks to that body of work, he was named as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he would never receive, like Amos Oz, who died in 2018.

Also read this interview: “Nowadays everything revolves around identity. We have to go from there’

Yehoshua was born in 1935 into the fifth generation of a Sephardic Jewish family from Jerusalem. After studying Hebrew literature and philosophy in Jerusalem, he served in the Israeli army from 1954 to 1957. He then became a secondary school teacher. He started publishing stories in magazines, which were collected in 1962 in The death of an old man† This debut collection is characterized by the existential fear and indecision of its main characters, who excel in apathy that stands in the way of their ambitions.

New Wave

After his debut, Yehoshua was able to join the writers of the New Wave, a movement that emerged in the late 1950s that rejected the old socialist-Zionist values ​​and ideology. The patriotic rhetoric of the literature of the years prior to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 disapproved of these writers. Instead, they preferred a clear language, which was close to the spoken language and which forms the basis of modern Israeli literature.

In 1963 Yehoshua left for Paris, where he worked at the World Union of Jewish Students. In 1967 he returned to Israel. There he taught comparative and Hebrew literature at the University of Haifa from 1973.

In his novel late divorce (1982) deals with universal themes such as loss of innocence and aging. The book symbolizes the moral decay in which Israel was in those years, according to him. In this way you read the failure of the socialist-Zionist ideology and it becomes clear how much the mutual relations within Israeli society have been disturbed. It is striking that in his work the Jewish main characters always get on well with their Arab compatriots.

Yehoshua also addressed these issues in his essays. Issues such as war and peace in the Middle East, the conflict between national and religious values ​​as well as between Israeli and Jewish identity were central.

Nine of his novels have been translated into Dutch. Of those are The five seasons of Molcho (1987, 1991) and Mr Mani (1990,1993) perhaps the best.

the epic Mr Mani deals with five generations of Jews and actually consists of five novels set in Israel in 1982, in Crete in 1944, in Jerusalem in 1918, in Cracow in 1899 and in Athens in 1848. Based on five conversations, you get an intriguing picture of what the Jewish identity, marked by a history of persecution, actually entails. The only true Jewish life, according to Yehoshua, could only be lived in the Jewish state. Elsewhere it came down to playing with Judaism at most.

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