Author Archives: Naomi Brenner

About Naomi Brenner

Naomi Brenner is completing a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on the many connections and interactions between modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature.

Israeli Literature: Reading List

Hayim Nahman Bialik 

  • C.N. Bialik, C.N. Bialik: Collected Poems.  Ed. David Aberbach ( Overlook Duckworth, 2004)
  • Bialik, Random Harvest: the Novellas of Bialik.  (Westview Press, 1999)
  • Bialik, Songs from Bialik.  (Syracuse University Press, 2000)

Yosef Hayim Brenner

  • Yosef Hayim Brenner, Breakdown and Bereavement.  (Toby Press, 2003)
  • Brenner, Out of the Depths.  (Westview Press, 1992)

Devora Baron 

  • Devora Baron, “The First Day” and Other Stories. (University of California Press, 2001)

S.Y. Agnon

the lover

Try reading A.B. Yehoshua.

S.Y. Agnon, The Book That Was Lost and Other Stories.  (Schocken, 1996)

  • Agnon, The Bridal Canopy.  (Syracuse University Press,
  • Agnon, A Guest for the Night.  (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)
  • Agnon, In the Heart of the Seas.  (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)
  • Agnon, Only Yesterday.  (Princeton University Press, 2002)
  • Agnon, Shira.  (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996)
  • Agnon, A Simple Story. (Syracuse University Press, 2000)
  • Agnon, Twenty-One Stories.  (Schocken, 1970)
  • Agnon, Two Tales: Betrothed and Edo and Enam.  (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Haim Hazaz

  • Haim Hazaz, Gates of Bronze.  (Toby Press, 2005)
  • Hazaz, The Sermon and Other Stories.  (Toby Press, 2005)

Aaron Megged

  • Aaron Megged, Foiglman.  (Toby Press, 2003)
  • Megged, The Living on the Dead.  (Toby Press, 2005)
  • Megged, Mandrakes from the Holy Land.  (Toby Press, 2005)

Yehuda Amichai

  • Yehuda Amichai, The Early Books of Yehuda Amichai.  (Sheep Meadow Press, 1988)
  • Amichai, Open Closed Open: Poems.  (Harcourt, 2000)
  • Amichai, Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems. (Sheep Meadow Press, 1992)
  • Amichai, The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. (University of California Press, 1996)
  • Amichai, Travels.  (Sheep Meadow Press, 1986

Israeli Literature: A Reader’s Guide

Approximately 5,000 books are published annually in Israel. Considering that Hebrew books are from a small country and in a relatively obscure language, they are often translated into English at an astonishing speed. Within two to three years of their initial publication, novels by prominent Israeli writers such as Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua appear on shelves at American bookstores and on the pages of The New York Review of Books.

While not all Hebrew books appear in English as quickly as these Israeli best sellers, readers in English can sample the richness of modern Hebrew literature, particularly novels and short stories, through the many works currently available in translation.

Beginnings of Modern Hebrew Literature

Modern Hebrew literature first emerged in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Few of these classics are still in print, but several notable writers are featured in recent books and reprints.

Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934) is one of the best known poets of the late 19th century and early 20th century renaissance of Hebrew literature. His rich and complex poetry, presented in translations such as David Aberbach’s C.N. Bialik: Collected Poems, explores radical changes in Eastern European Jewish life, biblical themes and the beauty of the natural world.

Yosef Chayim Brenner (1881-1921) was among the first generation of Hebrew writers in the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-state Palestine). Perhaps his best known work is Breakdown and Bereavement, a novel that traces the unraveling of an aspiring pioneer.

While Bialik and Brenner are mainstays of the Hebrew canon, a more surprising figure to find in English translation is Devora Baron (1887-1956). Baron wrote one novel and many intricate, lyrical short stories–often set in small towns in Eastern Europe–that have been collected in “The First Day” and Other Stories, translated and edited by Naomi Seidman and Chana Kronfeld.

Sly Modernists and Fervent Zionists

By the 1930s, the center of Hebrew literature had shifted from Europe to the Jewish community in Palestine. In the decades before and after the founding of the state of Israel, there is immense variety in Hebrew literature, mixing new and old literary themes and techniques.