Yoram Kaniuk George Klin - Essay

George Klin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Yoram Kaniuk prefaces his novel Rockinghorse with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges: "Writing is but a guided dream." It is an exact description of a book that reads like the notes of an endless nightmare. The dialogue is terribly intent and cryptic. Intellectuals gravely intone philosophical nonsense. Trivial objects have transcendental meanings. Macabre figures behave eerily. Rockinghorse is a long challenge to logic, psychology and clarity, an outpouring of riddles and non sequiturs.

But from a distance, like a pointillist painting, the novel coalesces into a tangible reality. With absurdist imagery it brings existential despair to a disquieting life. Learning is ignored as a solitary dealer in Hebrew books sells his wares in the New York snow. There are no bridges between people. Couples copulate without emotion. The narrator Aminadav abandons his daughter, the only person he loves. His mother gives him silly recommendations about avoiding water after fruit. His father sends him the same nine words in every letter: "Shalom, Aminadav, how are you, I'm well, Love, Father." Patriotism is treated with irony. The narrator, an Israeli, finds Eretz Israel, Zionism, national independence meaningless. Even art, which was of some consolation to Schopenhauer, fails Aminadav, the painter. (p. 687)

Just as meaning emerges from incoherence, structure hides under apparent chaos. Themes recur like musical motifs: the father's broken violin, a friend's death on the battlefield, the memory of the womb. Images dissolve into new scenes like the view in a kaleidoscope. Serenity alternates with convulsive activity, farce with tragedy. If it were possible to sum up Yoram Kaniuk's complex novel, teeming with ideas, moods and events, it would be in the narrator's bitter observation as he gazes upon the world: "I'm not at home. I'm a long way from home." (pp. 687-88)

George Klin, "Israel: 'Rockinghorse'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 52, No. 4, Autumn, 1978, pp. 687-88.