A Perfect Peace

by Amos Klausner

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Divided into two parts, “Winter” and “Spring,” A Perfect Peace begins in the winter of 1965 and ends at the beginning of 1967. Although Yonatan Lifshitz is the central character, almost all the other main characters help to carry the story forward by their thoughts or their writings or a combination of these. The principal action occurs in and around Kibbutz Granot, a collective settlement in Israel. Yonatan has lived in the kibbutz all of his life and now, at the age of twenty-six, he plans to leave his wife and home. Having long felt hemmed in by the kibbutz and by his years in the army, he longs to be free to do what he wants, though he cannot say for certain what that is. He has already hinted to his father how discontented he is, and before very long he tells his wife, the quiet and passive Rimona, that he will be leaving. Rimona has taken to dreaming yearningly of faraway places and great natural beauties; this longing is probably a consequence of her having recently suffered the birth of a stillborn child, her second failed pregnancy.

Into the life of Kibbutz Granot, and especially the lives of Yonatan and Rimona, comes Azariah Gitlin. Azariah is a young man who sometimes seems little more than a boy, although he is old enough to have survived the Holocaust, wandered across Western Europe, read widely (but not necessarily deeply), and served a number of years in the Israeli army. Seeking a home, companionship, and a family, he asks to be admitted into the kibbutz. In a short time he makes a place for himself there, although at first he is considered a nuisance and a bore. Almost without knowing what is taking place as it happens, Yonatan and Azariah become friends, housemates, and then, with Yonatan’s approval, lovers of the same woman, Rimona. Seeing this turn of events as a circumstance that will allow him, finally, to get away, Yonatan gathers a few items for the road and, very early one morning, leaves, hitchhiking to the border with Jordan.

Although it should be clear to his parents, Yolek and Hava, that he has left of his own accord, they blame each other for his disappearance. Yolek is angrily self-persuaded that Benya Trotsky, who has for decades been the center of dispute between Yolek and his wife, has arranged for Yonatan to join him in Miami, where he has acquired millions of dollars from various business ventures. Years before, Benya had been in love with Hava but had to leave Kibbutz Granot after a violent, but failed, attempt on the lives of Yolek, Hava, the kibbutz bull, and himself. From afar Benya has, at various times, “volunteered” to be Yonatan’s father; so intense is his argument, however unlikely, that he is his father that both Benya and Yolek are ready to believe that it is so. In a letter and through an agent, Benya lends his support to the search for Yonatan, which by now has also been taken up by members of the army unit in which Yonatan served. Even Levi Eshkol, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense of Israel, is enlisted in the effort to locate Yonatan.

The story moves back and forth between life in the kibbutz and life, for Yonatan, on the road. Srulik replaces Yolek as kibbutz secretary; Azariah cares for Rimona during her third pregnancy; Hava becomes a stabilizing force throughout the kibbutz when her husband’s health fails; Stutchnik the milkman dies; Azariah prophesies war; and, at about the time of the birth of Rimona’s child (whose paternity is uncertain), Yonatan comes home and takes up his former life again.

The war that Azariah had foreseen comes and—being the Six Day War—goes. Both Yonatan and Azariah return from it as heroes and life goes on. Srulik implies in a journal entry which ends the novel that the only course one can take is to do what one can do and then, for the rest, wait and see.

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