A. B. Yehoshua is sometimes called Israel’s best living novelist, and judging from the variety and complexity of his work, this may be true. His art fictionalizes the controversies that are ever present in Israel: the tensions between European-born and native-born Israelis, the tensions between those who live in Israel and those who choose to live in the Diaspora, the conflicts between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, and the conflicts between Arabs and Israelis. Against the opposing forces of such conflicts, Yehoshua delves deeply into his characters’ inner lives with astute psychological understanding, using certain archetypal and mythic patterns as well.
The Lover, his first full-length novel, immediately brought him international recognition; this work delineates the disintegration of an Ashkenazi family. Not until he wrote Mr. Mani, however—a family epic that spans six generations—did Yehoshua create a protagonist who is Sephardic and whose Sephardic roots play an important role in the story. The technique he employs in Mr. Mani is unusual; the novel is composed of five different conversations at five significant moments of history, but only one side of the dialogue is given in each of these conversations, while the other side must be assumed. In this way Yehoshua combines a long historical span with the personal perspectives of the members of the Mani family. The theme of the disintegration of the family is seen here as well as in many of his novels, such as A Late Divorce and The Liberated Bride. Yehoshua has often been called the Hebrew Faulkner, and in many of his books he deals with the same issues of guilt and penance that are addressed in the works of William Faulkner. The novelist credits Faulkner as one of his sources of inspiration, along with Albert Camus and Franz Kafka.
Always interested in history, Yehoshua switched from contemporary Israeli society with A Journey to the End of the Millennium, a historical novel that takes place in the year 999. The novel tells the story of a merchant traveling from Africa to Europe who has taken a second wife, a custom that was accepted in North African Jewish communities but forbidden in Europe. When he sets out on his journey, Ben Attar, the protagonist, intends to persuade the Jews of Europe to his way of thinking about polygamy. The novel is rich with the colorful appearance and sophisticated ideas of the African visitors, against which the drab costumes and narrow beliefs of the Rhineland towns Ben Attar visits seem provincial indeed. Ben Attar fails to persuade, however.
The Liberated Bride
The Liberated Bride centers on Yochanan Rivlin, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Haifa University. Rivlin is determined to find out the cause of the divorce of his eldest son, Ofer, and he is also determined to find out the root cause of the ferocity of the Algerian war of the 1990’s for a book he is writing. These two quests form the narrative arc of the novel, as they lead Rivlin into adventures that find him far from home and the constraints of his beloved wife, Hagit, a well-respected district judge. Hagit’s position involves making judgments on those who break the boundaries of the law and trains her to respect privacy.
When Rivlin is dispatched to Jerusalem to pick up his visiting sister-in-law from the airport, he happens to hear that his former daughter-in-law, Galya, is in mourning for her suddenly deceased father. Seizing on this as an opportunity to see Galya, he stops in to pay his respects while Galya’s family is receiving guests. He not only discovers that Galya has remarried but also comes to believe that she is pregnant. These facts do not quench his desire to discover the cause of his son’s divorce from Galya five years previously, but he receives no satisfaction. Still obsessed with his hunger to know the causes of Ofer and Galya’s divorce, he writes to Ofer and suggests that his son write a letter of condolence to Galya.
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