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A Tribute to A. B Yehoshua

July 1, 2022
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By Randy Pinsky

The world lost a literary giant, social critic, passionate Israeli and voice of moral authority on June 14th.

A.B. Yehoshua (1936-2022) – or ‘Buli’, as he was called by his friends – was one of Israel’s most well-read authors. Best known for ‘Mr. Mani’, ‘Journey to the End of the Millennium’ and ‘First Seasons,’ Buli’s signature style was frank observations and comments on Israeli culture and socio-political challenges. In March 2021, the Azrieli Institute hosted Dr. Yael Halevi-Wise to discuss ‘How to Really Read a Novel by A.B. Yehoshua’.

As noted by Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, professor emeritus of comparative literature at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, “Nearly every one of Buli’s fictions changed the conversation and constituted an innovation in modern Hebrew fiction, either in form or content.

Yehoshua’s highly acclaimed works have been translated into twenty-eight languages, with several being recognized as bestsellers, putting Israel on the world literature map (ironically, he received a failing grade in high school composition!) “His novels and stories were often touched by heartbreak, and he was praised for his nuanced understanding of the contradictory impulses that bedevil humans,” observed The New York Times.

In his own words, Yehoshua reflected, “Laughter and tears are the best vitamins for good writing” when receiving Israel’s prestigious Dan David Prize (2017). And indeed, it was this bittersweet quality which made his readings resonate so profoundly with his readers.

His powerful pieces stemmed from his own experience living under British-controlled Palestine, and documented Israel’s transition to statehood. A staunch Zionist and political activist, he promoted a “joint endeavour” between Israelis and Palestinians.

Another claim to fame was his dismissive referral to the Diaspora[1] as “partial Jews” who selectively portrayed their Jewish identity “like a jacket to suit the moment”, unlike Israelis, for whom their Jewishness was fixed.

‘Mr. Mani’ (winner of the 1992 National Jewish Book Award for fiction) was one of Yehoshua’s most powerful novels, unique in its one-sided conversations with six generations of a Sephardic family. While this unconventional writing style was confusing for some (compounded by counter-chronological chapters!), he claimed, “when you challenge the reader, you enlist him as an important partner.”

“One of Israel’s greatest authors… [Yehoshua] gifted us his unforgettable works, which will continue to accompany us for generations,” eulogized Israeli President Isaac Herzog. “[They]…reflect[ ] us in an accurate, sharp, loving and sometimes painful mirror image.”

“Students of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies had the unique opportunity to meet A.B. Yehoshua at their Summer in Israel program in 2018”. Reflects director Csaba Nikolenyi, “It was truly a memorable experience for our students. I will forever remember how he engaged them in a difficult but most honest exchange about the importance of Zionism and the meaning of Israel for what he called the "total Jew".

Stay tuned for the Azrieli’s Fall movie schedule, where we will be screening Yair Qedar’s documentary, “The Last Chapter of A.B. Yehoshua.” 

 

[1] Jewish people who live outside of Israel.




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