Abraham B. Yehoshua Essay - Critical Essays

Yehoshua, Abraham B.


Yehoshua, Abraham B. 1936–

An Israeli short story writer, playwright, and novelist, Yehoshua is gaining an increasingly wider reputation outside his country. The political and social realities of Israel form the background for much of his later work and particularly for his first full-length novel, The Lover. Many critics have praised his structural innovation. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)

Eli Pfefferkorn

[Yehoshua] brings to his plays a knack for structural compactness, for manipulation of character and for creating a sense of an impending turning point. All these dramatic commodities are dynamically galvanized by a dialogue that rapidly alternates between poignant staccato utterances and a kind of lingering meditative lyricism. Using a dramatic strategy similar to that of Pinter in The Birthday Party and The Homecoming, Yehoshua gradually builds up a situation fraught with emotional tension that is abruptly discharged in a fierce dialogue by characters engaged in a series of interpersonal confrontations. Unlike Pinter's characters, however, who openly display an impulse toward wanton destructiveness, Yehoshua's dramatis personae often hide under the garb of urbane civility. Though not possessed by death, Yehoshua the playwright seems to enjoy depicting the emerging skull beneath the skin of his characters. Minutely exploring the tortuous contours of their psychic landscape, Yehoshua presents his characters as they abruptly vacillate between realism and fantasy. Out of joint with their immediate environment, they are either wearing an apocalyptic chip on their shoulders or else are hopelessly entangled in a psychological labyrinth. His [is a] predilection for the unique and the weird…. Yehoshua is at his best when engaging his characters in the game of psychological brinksmanship, pushing them to the extreme edge of their endurance. (pp. 198-99)

The compression of time and space [in "A Night in May"] functions as a catalyst to advance a series of sharp confrontations between the characters, whose latent conflicts are exposed in a nervous exchange of verbal fencing…. By the time the play has reached its climactic point in the middle of the third act, the emotionally wrought-up characters have spent themselves in a night of frenzied verbal combat. When the first rays of the Jerusalem dawn break through the window, the play makes its final movement, and the...

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Dov Vardi

It seems that the Israeli's relentless self-scrutiny since the Yom Kippur War has found [in Ha-me'ahev (The Lover)] a quarry for what is tormenting him: the sham of middle-class life, the inanity of success in enterprise, the infiltration of the economy by Arab hands, militant ultra-orthodoxy, unending reserve duty, the frantic search for missing Israelis, yerida (leaving the country) and, above all, "what happened to us since '48?"

Pirandello-like, the narrative develops through the monologues of six characters, each one like a persona in a morality play….

Yehoshua cuts mercilessly into the Israeli dilemma—winner and loser….

Underlining the Israeli scene, it is the political and social critic in Yehoshua which sets this work somewhere between journalism and complex art. The price he pays is to forgo a deeper search into human action and relationships through subtleties of character. This is only partly compensated for by the fascination of his theme and symbol. If one critic saw in this work "epic breadth," I must decline. "Breadth"—quite; "epic"—questionable. But wonderful reading. (p. 337)

Dov Vardi, in World Literature Today (copyright 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring, 1978.

Warren Bargad

In his fifteen-odd years of prose writing, Avraham B. Yehoshua has moved through three distinct phases. His first stories were brief, allegorical narratives, absurdist in tone and dramatization, and existential in import. Later, in the mid-sixties, he wrote longer stories, more psychologically focused and realistically framed, but still dependent upon strong doses of interpretation. And in the seventies, especially with his most recent Hebrew publication, The Lover (haMe'ahev), Yehoshua has turned still further away from symbolism. Instead, his works have become rooted unambiguously in one, all-encompassing reality: war and its accompanying stresses on the human psyche.

The three stories collected in Early in the Summer of 1970 span the three stages of A. B. Yehoshua's writing career…. "The Last Commander," collected in Yehoshua's first volume of stories (The Death of the Old Man, 1963), is a heavily symbolic work with socio-psychological implications. "Early in the Summer of 1970," first published in … the spring of 1971, is structured along the lines of the French nouveau roman, blending reality and fantasy—the fall of a son and the father's wishful dream of his survival—with an abrogated sense of time. And "Missile Base 612," which appeared in … [1974], is a realistic but ironic work about ennui and futility in the life of an intellectual, both at home and at the front. The theme of war unites the three stories; but their particular chronology and varied modes of depiction and narration make the collection an interesting one indeed. (p. 76)

The dichotomous leadership [in "The Last Commander"] represents two diverse attitudes toward war and military achievement. [The commander] Yagnon—the name may be a pun on the Hebrew yagon, "sorrow" or...

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Robert Alter

A vocal member of the disaffected Left in a country constantly straining under the pressures of political conflict, Mr. Yehoshua is acutely conscious of political issues in his work, but his deepest imaginative concerns lie elsewhere; and the delicate shifting tensions between political surface and what I would call elemental depths are a principal source of his fiction's piquancy, its elusive, haunting appeal.

The surface of "The Lover" would seem to justify describing it straightforwardly as a novel of the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath. The story, in a technique possibly suggested by Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," is told through the alternating monologues of six central characters: Adam, a prosperous middle-aged Haifa garage-owner; Asya, his wife; Gabriel, her young lover, who has returned from a decade abroad to be swept up in the October war; Dafi, the teen-age daughter of Adam and Asya; Na'im, a young Arab worker at Adam's garage, who falls in love with Dafi; and Veducha, Gabriel's nonagenarian grandmother. When the war is over, Gabriel is missing in action, and the governing force of the plot is Adam's obsessive search for his wife's vanished lover.

As several Hebrew reviewers were quick to point out, Mr. Yehoshua's novel manages to touch most of the raw nerves of Israel's troubled national condition…. Mr. Yehoshua is keenly concerned about all [Israel's problems], but in his novel they are ultimately the means of dramatizing a more fundamental thematic interplay between youth and age, potency and impotence, living and dying, sleep and waking.

The addictive allure of sleep in fact has been an explicit theme of Mr. Yehoshua's since his earliest short stories, and in "The Lover" that theme is orchestrated through the various monologues with...

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Alfred Kazin

Missing connections, family anomie, and breakup inadmissible to Jewish piety and Israeli solidarity (but of course not exclusive of endless family discussions) are the favorite themes of the delicate and ironic young Israeli novelist Avraham Yehoshua. In two books of stories, Three Days and a Child and Early in the Summer of 1970, Yehoshua brought to his stories of alienation and antagonism within the Israeli family such fine political shading that I am not surprised to find in the comic situation of The Lover, his first novel, a parallel comedy of Arab-Jewish distrust that does not shirk the ferocity that grows every month. Through the eyes both of a fifteen-year-old Arab working in the husband's...

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