A(braham) B. Yehoshua 1936–
Israeli novelist, short story writer, essayist, scriptwriter, and dramatist.
Yehoshua is one of Israel's foremost contemporary fiction writers. He is a member of "the generation of the state," the first generation to come of age after Israel was proclaimed an independent state in 1948. Yehoshua's fiction treats concerns which have arisen in this generation: such political problems as the Arab-Israeli conflict; such moral dilemmas as the danger of clinging to the Zionist dream without facing the reality of Palestinian demands; and such social issues as the emigration from Israel of the younger generation and its loss of faith in the Zionist ideology which created Israel. Although much of Yehoshua's work is centered on Israeli concerns, certain characteristics give his fiction universal significance: his underlying theme of the alienation and isolation of humankind and the careful development of the psychological state of his characters.
Critics of Yehoshua's early story collections, Mot ha-zaken (1962) and Mul ha-ye'arot (1968; the latter volume published in the United States under the title Three Days and a Child), compared him to Franz Kafka because of the abstract and surrealistic nature of his stories. Many of these stories, which one critic called "modern fables," are not grounded in a particular time and place; instead Yehoshua uses allegory to comment on contemporary Israel and humanity in general. He makes extensive use of symbolism in these stories, a characteristic which some critics have found overwhelming. Yehoshua explained in an interview, "I am still not able, in dealing with reality, to be content with a spontaneous selection from the passing stream. I am compelled always to seek out the intellectual, symbolic aspects and to see reality as representing the general idea." More recently, Yehoshua has moved towards realistic modes of expression which deal more explicitly with Israel and in which the symbolism is less obtrusive.
"Facing the Forests," which appeared in Three Days and a Child, has evoked much critical discussion for its controversial subject matter. In this story, a frustrated and disaffected Israeli graduate student takes a job as a forest ranger. He ultimately acts as a silent accomplice when an Arab burns down the forest that had displaced his village. Critics have offered a variety of interpretations of this story. In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, "Facing the Forests" has been seen as an illustration of the younger generation's ambivalence and lack of faith in Israel. On a more universal level, the story has been interpreted as a commentary on humanity's tendency towards unmotivated evil and isolation. In another story, "The Lengthening Silence of a Poet," Yehoshua again offers a dim prognosis for Israel's future. In his depiction of a formerly great poet, who no longer writes, and an imbecile son, who tries and fails to continue the father's work, Yehoshua portrays the impotence of the older generation and the lack of inner resources of the younger one. The other stories in this collection are similarly negative. The world Yehoshua portrays is sterile and oppressive; the characters are imprisoned and alienated. According to critic Jerome Greenfield, "In the existential despair, the pessimism, the sense of dislocation and alienation that pervade his work, Yehoshua establishes a bridge between modern Israeli writing and a dominant stream of some of the best Western literature of our age … without abandoning … the everyday reality of Israeli life."
As Yehoshua's work moved away from surrealism and towards realism, he turned from short stories to novels. His first novel, The Lover (1977), was followed by A Late Divorce (1983), which critics have compared to William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury as a family saga which employs a series of different narrators to explore psychological and moral questions. A Late Divorce concerns an Israeli who has immigrated to the United States and later returns home to obtain a divorce. The man finds his family in a state of decay, which some critics considered a symbol for the decline of Israel. Yehoshua explained, "I don't claim the family is a symbol of Israel, but there is a layer of allegory—the imbalance between the father and mother, which does not create proper relations for the health of the family. Like the father, who gives up his responsibilities and goes to America, Jews who leave Israel for America are escaping their responsibility."
Critical reaction to Yehoshua's work has often focused more on its ideological than its literary aspects, but both have been almost uniformly praised. Yehoshua is commended for his storytelling abilities, the psychological depth of his characters, his precise and evocative use of language, and his structural innovations. He is acknowledged as one of Israel's most important social critics. His political and social commentary appears both in his fiction and as essays in Israeli newspapers and magazines. He has published a collection of essays, Between Right and Right (1981), which Harold Bloom described as "a polemic against the Diaspora…. [These essays are] efforts to reformulate the terms of identity, Jew, Zionist, Israeli." Yehoshua's works have been translated into numerous languages and two of his books, Three Days and a Child and Early in the Summer of 1970, have been adapted as films.
(See also CLC, Vol. 13 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)