Yoram Kaniuk Alan Mintz - Essay

Alan Mintz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Story of Aunt Shlomzion the Great" is about a woman who turns her will] loose on family and community in explosions of rage and imprecation. She spends a lifetime terrorizing those closest to her and manipulating their lives….

Shlomzion's story is told by her nephew, Aminadav…. Aminadav is sufficiently removed from Shlomzion to retain something of his own identity but close enough to have grown up under her spell; his telling of her story is an attempt to rediscover his own self. In fact, he seems like a man wrestling with an obsession: the story churns over and over the events and motifs of Shlomzion's life, returning incessantly to crucial episodes and significant details. This procedure could easily have proved tiresome, but Mr. Kaniuk pulls it off by imparting new information with every repetition and by studding the narrative with half a dozen superb vignettes that satisfy our thirst for conventional storytelling.

The novel stands or falls on the credibility of Shlomzion. And indeed she is convincing, because she is a character constructed of the deepest fears of the Israeli mind…. The character works because she is an archetype: the Great Mother, the dura mater of Jewish history. Like the land of Israel, Shlomzion was there before the pioneers; and like the land, too, though she requires continual sacrifice she is never appeased. (pp. 8, 27)

Alan Mintz, "Demanding like the Land," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 21, 1979, pp. 8, 27.