by: A. Carroll on July 16th, 2012 | 1 Comment »
“It’s a real art, you don’t appreciate it, to live this kind of double life among us, to live our world and to live its opposite” — Adam, The Lover
Throughout history it is the artists — the painters, the singers, the authors — who have been able to say what the politicians can’t or won’t, to describe the emotions, nuances, and beauty of a society. The censorship and manipulation of art by political regimes has been, and continues to be, an early sign of oppression, tyrannzy, and fascism. This is not coincidental. Art has the ability to play a vital role within areas of conflict. Art can challenge assumptions. Art can expose dismal realities. Art can invoke feeling in ways more “real” than any “fact” about where a border runs.
As a student of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I understand the difficulty of unpacking the complex history, the myriad political standpoints, and the seemingly impenetrable question of what “justice” in the region looks like. On this subject, we are constantly challenged to wade to wade through the “facts,’ in order to determine what we believe the truth to be. Perhaps then, there is merit in taking another approach — in not directly seeking the “facts,” but rather in turning to those who convey societal truths through other means. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
By looking at Israeli and Palestinian literature, it is possible to shed light on certain cultural and social realities that are lost in negotiations, mandates, and U.N. resolutions. It is for this reason that I seek to critically explore an array of Israeli and Palestinian literature that has been published throughout the course of the conflict. From long-famous authors like Amos Oz and Ghassan Kanafani, to newer writers like Sayed Kashua and Suad Amiry, I want to explore the past, present, and future of the conflict through a new lens. Some of these books I have read before, some I will be unraveling for the first time, but all promise to be entertaining and enlightening reads. These stories are largely works of fiction, and though the characters may not exist, it is through them that these authors are able to convey very deep truths about life in Israel and Palestine.
When examining this field of literature, A.B. Yehoshua’s classic novel The Lover, is an interesting place to start. A somewhat contentious figure, Yehoshua remains a renowned Israeli author and a key figure in Israeli literature. He is an outspoken member of the Israeli Peace Movement, and though critical of the occupation, he is defensive of its historical necessity. Additionally, Yehoshua has received a large amount of flak due to his criticism of Diaspora Jews for not living the full “Jewish life’ in Israel. The Lover is Yehoshua’s first novel.
In this work, the author skillfully spins a story about a man looking for his wife’s lover in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Yehoshua masterfully interweaves the voices of an array of characters: Adam, a husband and garage owner; Asya, his distant and always dreaming wife; Dafi, their insolent and ignored child; Na’im, an Arab boy attempting to find his place within Israeli society; Veducha, a woman so old she knew pre-1948 Israel; and finally, Gabriel, the lover. Though the characters’ paths and views differ, for each this is a tale of searching, longing, and self-realization in 1970s Israel. Yehoshua’s gift with language (as well as superior translation) creates a novel with an extremely poetic flow. Rife with motifs and symbolism, this book could be read again and again with new discoveries made every time. Whether it is a reference to food, the fitful sleep patterns of the characters, or the choice of names, every thought, movement and idea carries significance far beyond a surface-level interpretation.
One of the most important themes woven throughout the novel is that of perspective. By using such diverse voices, Yehoshua is able to provoke the reader into constantly questioning the “reality” of each perspective — as one event is described in contrasting, seemingly conflicting, fashions by different people. As the reader attempts to piece together the stories being told, so too do the characters attempt to grasp the reality in which they live. Through them we discover the terror of forgetting our memories, the fear of being forgotten, and the earth-shattering loss of people, consciousness, and identity.
The intimate relation Yehoshua creates between the reader and each character’s perspective allows one to accept the highs and lows, terrible thoughts, and even more horrific transgressions of each person. This story is not one of heroes. Yehoshua, like many other Israeli and Palestinian authors, illustrates the absurdity of the traditional hero in such a landscape, but is still able to illicit sympathy, if not for the character, at least for the validity of his or her perspective. Rather than asking the reader to judge or moralize these characters, Yehoshua is presenting a story of basic human connections in a trying and confusing space. Though perspectives may differ, in the end it is impossible to question the reality of the relationships that have emerged between these people, human connections so intense that they constitute perhaps the only irrefutable “truth” of The Lover.