Abraham B. Yehoshua Robert Alter - Essay

Robert Alter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 743 words.)