The Loves of Judith

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Meir Shalev is a popular media personality in Israel where he has worked as a television journalist, talk show host, and whimsical commentator on political and cultural issues as a columnist for Yediot Achronot, a leading Israeli newspaper. He has written three other novels, many children's books, and several books of criticism. He is a veteran of the Yom Kippur War of 1973 during which he saw action on the Golan Heights and was seriously wounded.

Shalev began as a poet, and the striking imagery of his stories still speaks of his poetic sensibility. The influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magic realism is apparent in all of his work, but he gives the combination of myth, fantasy, and social realism a unique Israeli twist. Shalev delights in nature, and he finds in both its detail and cosmic range powerful inspiration for his art There is something Emersonian about Shalev; he has admitted to a great fondness for Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond. The rediscovery of “nature” is the great contribution that Israel has made to Jewish life. For centuries the Jews were cut off from the soil, and Shalev celebrates the return of a pastoral people to its roots.

In The Loves of Judith the symbol of nature's overpowering attraction is Judith, an unlikely nature goddess—being slightly deaf—who arrives in a small agricultural village in Palestine after World War II. She is pursued by Globerman, a rough and greedy cattle dealer whose passion for money, women, and meat give him a Titan-like ferocity. His rivals include Moshe, a widowed farmer who cannot forget his dead wife and tries to resurrect her spirit through Judith, and Jacob, who gives up his wife, the most beautiful woman in the village, to woo Judith and raise canaries.

The three men strive to win Judith, but she will not agree to marry any one of them. After eleven years of keeping them all at bay as suitors, if not as lovers, she finally gives birth to a son she names Zayde, or “grandfather.” She reasons that with that name, the angel of death will be less likely to take him. Zayde, who is the hero-narrator, looks like all three men.