Five Writers From a New Generation
It could seem superficial for me to characterize the five Israeli writers I gathered here as guest fiction editor of Guernica. In some ways, we are an accidental bunch, who happened to have bumped into each other along the road in various literary events and gatherings, or just on Rothschild Avenue in Tel Aviv, where everyone seems to bump into everyone else in our small-scene-within-a-small-country. There is no shared “statement,” no “movement,” no joint “mission.” On the contrary—we write very different fiction; we are just a group of distinct writers with a very small degree of separation.
But when I take a closer look, I realize that there is actually something removed from accidental in putting us together. There is a kind of logic, some reasoning: those electronic dots dancing next to each other on your web screens draw a certain map on which you can find a route—even if only one of several routes—to read Israel’s current generation of writers.
First off, we are defined by who we are not: we are not the established, famous, celebrated older generation of Israeli authors. It would do injustice to them as much as it would to us to group them together and define them as one unit, but I would dare define them as serious authors, makers of stylistic literary fiction that deals with the “big” issues of Israeli society in the last half-century: wars, Arabs, the emergence of the state, the Holocaust aftershock, and so on. Now, it is not that we younger writers are not serious, or that we shy away from dealing with topics such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Holocaust—not at all; we still live in the same reality. But, I would suggest, we offer a different tone; call it lighter, more cutting edge, or daring: whatever it is, we don’t seem to carry the same weight on our shoulders. And while the previous generation demonstrated a social coherence, we offer a more fragmented, varied outlook for our country.
Then, our age-group, our location, our lives: born around that all-defining moment of change: the six-day war of June 1967, the beginning of the occupation; born into a strong, assured, prosperous Israel, witnessed wars and peace agreements and fear and joy, and economic booms and despairs. We are from different backgrounds. We were born and grew up in different parts of the country: north and south and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and abroad: the core and the periphery. And we found our way to the center, to Tel Aviv or its suburbs, and we made our separate ways into writing, and here is the outcome; here are the very-different-in-style-and-subject-matter yet somehow close-in-spirit outcomes of this:
Etgar Keret is the ambassador, if not prime minister, of younger Israeli fiction. His phenomenal success all over the world has opened eyes and paved ways for others to follow. He did it with charming little pieces of fiction—short stories that slip from real to surreal, from fantasy to satire, from desperate heartbreak to small moments of joy.
Michal Zamir broke into the literary scene five years ago with the prize-winning novel on women soldiers under constant sexual harassment. The Israeli media concentrated on the “controversy” of the daughter of the former head of Israeli intelligence service Mossad, coming out against the sacred national army, neglecting, in part, to emphasize the honest and brave dismantling of the untouched macho Israeli male image.
Sami Berdugo writes searching fiction that delves into questions of identity, roots, and masculinity. His distinct voice and rich, attentive language has earned him many prizes and admirers. With authentic and articulate sensitivity, he explores “the second Israel” of the hard-working, under-privileged families on the periphery.
Eshkol Nevo is possibly the most popular author of the younger generation in Israel itself. His fiction brings to life a very Israeli perspective on relationships, coming-of-age, friendships, and self-exploration, in a way that struck a chord with a huge, mainly young audience. With Homesick, the novel that won prizes in France and England and will be published shortly in the U.S., he is conquering further audiences abroad.
As for myself —in my novels I try to merge realist literary fiction with different genres: thriller, romance, detective, or science fiction, and place this blend in the confused, complex, often-mad, and always-singular mess that is contemporary Israel. Or at least I do my best to do so.
And with this note on our mess I will end, because I think that as a team we couldn’t represent our country better: the mixture of high and low, popular and literary, masculine and feminist, aggressive and gentle, naïve and cynical, politically involved and disengaged in a bubble, funny and depressing, and hard and soft—this is us, this is our messy little hot corner of the world.
I hope you enjoy the read.
Assaf Gavron, forty, has published four novels, a collection of short stories, and a non-fiction collection of Jerusalem falafel-joint reviews. His fiction has been translated into German, Russian, Italian, French, English, and more, won prizes, was adapted for the stage, and optioned several times for movies. His novel Almost Dead will be published in the U.S. by HarperCollins in April 2010.
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