Israeli Literature: A Reader's Guide

Hebrew literature in translation.

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Changing Society, Changing Literature

In recent years, Hebrew literature has reflected the increasing fragmentation of Israeli identity and society. Writers like Anton Shammas, Sami Michael, and Dorit Rabinyan represent the changing face of the Israeli author, while the works of writers such as David Grossman and Meir Shalev challenge traditional narratives about Israeli history and Zionism.

Though not always easy to find in print, Sami Michael's (1926-) novels represent the emergence of mizrahi writing, work by Jews from Arab lands. Among Michael's many novels, Refuge chronicles the complex relationships between Jews, Arabs, and Arab-Jews, while A Trumpet in the Wadi narrates a love affair that crosses boundaries between Jew and Arab.

Yoel Hoffman (1937-) weaves together experimental and fragmented language with elements of Buddhism and Western philosophy into books  such as the dream-like love story, The Heart is in Katmandu, and the complex mixture of reality and fantasy, Katschen and the Book of Joseph.

Haim Be'er's (1945-) acclaimed novels, Feathers and The Pure Element of Time, are often described as Israeli magic realism. Both books explore life in religious communities in Jerusalem, leaping between past and present, comedy and the macabre, and wholeness and fragmentation.

Several of Batya Gur's (1947-2005) popular mysteries, featuring Jerusalem police office Michael Ohayon, have been translated to English. From her first novel, The Saturday Morning Mystery, to her final book, Murder in Jerusalem, Gur’s work combines the suspense of classic detective narratives with deft portrayals of Israeli characters and society.

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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.