Israeli Literature: A Reader's Guide

Hebrew literature in translation.

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S.Y. Agnon (1888-1970) was one of the most celebrated Hebrew writers of the twentieth century, and the only Israeli to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Among his best known works are A Guest for the Night, which narrates the protagonist's return to his Galician town after the destruction of World War I, Only Yesterday, a sprawling social and psychological portrait of the Second Aliya, and his many short stories, collected in A Book That Was Lost and Other Stories.

In contrast to Agnon, Chayim Hazaz's (1898-1973) modernist stories and novels are often explicitly ideological, examining different social and historical aspects of Zionism. In the story "The Sermon," from the collection The Sermon and Other Stories, his characters reject Jewish life in the Diaspora and envision a new Jewish nation, free of the neuroses of previous generations.

Aharon Megged (1920-) often writes about the powerlessness and disillusionment of his generation. One of Megged's best known novels, The Living on the Dead, questions the existence of heroism in Israeli society. A more recent book, Foiglman, examines conflicted relationships between fathers and sons, Israel and the Diaspora, and Hebrew and Yiddish.

The New Wave

From the early 1960s, Israeli fiction has beenfilled with complex characters alienated from society and the land. Though writers such as Yehoshua Kenaz and Binyamin Tammuz are not easy to find in translation, many others writers of the time are well-represented in English.

Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) is one of the best known and most beloved Israeli poets. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages, from Albanian to Turkish. His lyrical poetry and prose use everyday language to create vivid, poignant images and capture complex emotions and experiences, both in his early poetry, represented in the translated collection The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, and in his final book, Open Closed Open: Poems.

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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.