A. B. Yehoshua

In Memoriam

Yehoshua died on Tuesday, June 14, at the age of 85. We feel that we are nearing the end of an era. The one of Aharon Appelfeld (1932-2018), Amos Oz (1938-2018) and A.B. Yehoshua (1936-2022), who embodied a generation of Israeli literature. They were not only great writers. This generation also represented the moral conscience of a nation that they saw come to birth.

Beryl Caizzi, who wrote a text for K. based on Yehoshua’s The Liberated Bride — to be read HERE — sends us a letter in tribute to this writer she loves.

 

Yehoshua standing on the roofs of Rome

 

“Men are very generally spoiled by being so civil and well-disposed. You can have no profitable conversation with them, they are so conciliatory, determined to agree with you. They exhibit such a long-suffering and kindness in a short interview. I would meet with some provoking strangeness, so that we may be guest and host and refresh one another. It is possible for a man wholly to disappear and be merged on his manners. The thousand and one gentlemen whom I meet, I meet despairingly and but to part from them, for I am not cheered by the hope of any rudeness from them. A cross man, an eccentric man, a man who does not drill well, – of him there is some hope“.

H. D. Thoreau, Journal, 1851.

 

The writer Avraham B. Yehoshua died on Tuesday June 14, in Israel, at the age of eighty-five.

It is difficult to give an eulogy, even a funeral eulogy, to a man who tried so little to please and almost systematically regards as his task to brush history against the grain.

Like the Israeli president, prime minister and minister of culture, we could focus exclusively on his literary talents, recalling the number of languages into which his novels have been translated, the many prizes he has received.

A Zionist and an Arabist, a champion of marriage and the family and an outspoken feminist, a polyglot and cosmopolitan writer and a critic of the diaspora, Yehoshua did not allow himself to be put into any one box. Already in his old age, he even renounced the idea he had defended for decades, “the two-state solution”, to promote “a common state” for Israelis and Palestinians, a shift that led to a dispute with his lifelong friend, Amos Oz.

And yet, none of these postures, none of these statements seem to be the result of a taste for provocation, media exposure or the fashions of the moment. Like the characters in his novels, Yehoshua seeks tirelessly: he seeks to understand the causes of intimate and collective conflicts, he seeks the truth of beings, he seeks solutions and this, until his last breath. Whether or not one shares the conclusions of his research, such perseverance, such obstinacy in questioning, compels admiration.

Whether he lends his pen to a young Israeli Arab in The Lover, whether he praises the pious Jews who allow a deserter to flee the front, or whether one of his characters, an old professor, argues on the phone with a vacuum cleaner salesman who asks to speak to his wife and refuses to praise the qualities of a product of which he is, however, the main user in his household, the reader never doubts the truthfulness of the subject.

Yehoshua does not seem to feel the need to restrict, to polish, to produce a coherent and transparent whole. In doing so, without ever proposing easy identification schemes, he offers an incomparable freedom to the reader, the freedom of diving into the plurality of worlds.

I am writing from Italy, a country that Yehoshua considered his second home and where his non-Israeli readers were most numerous. His latest novel, The Only Daughter, is set in northern Italy, and in The Liberated Bride the character who seems to embody the writer’s father, the historian Yaakov Yehoshua, is a Piedmontese Jew, Professor Tedeschi.

Cartoon published in La Repubblica. The text reads: The only concrete, non-rhetorical remedy is equality: to be all citizens. To Avraham Yehoshua, great storyteller and man of peace. Photo, Beryl Caizzi

Today, the daily La Repubblica devoted two full pages to his memory. The newspaper’s editor, Maurizio Molinari, and the specialist on Israel and the Jewish question, Wlodek Golkorn, speak of him with emotion as a close friend who will be missed by them, by the newspaper’s readers and by the many Italians who had the chance to meet him at literary events. His affinities are of course due to the Mediterranean culture of mixing. Less predictable is the hypothesis put forward by Maurizio Molinari, who draws a parallel between the Zionist adventure and the Italian Risorgimento, a late and laborious process that still does not seem to be completed in a country of emigration, multilingual, divided and difficult to understand in its heterogeneity. “To be Italian” is still not self-evident today. On both sides, these uncertainties are undoubtedly fruitful.

Strangely enough, when I heard of his death, my heart sank and I wondered in which bed he had died, he who so loved to have his characters sleep in beds of chance. To sleep away from home, he said, is to be able to abandon oneself, to rely on others. Strengthened by this trust, the hosts watch over the stranger’s sleep. It is therefore with these words that I would like to greet him and his characters that I have so much enjoyed following in their incessant wanderings: And I go to bed proud to have lived and to have suffered in some one besides myself. [1]”.


Béryl Caizzi.

Rome, June 15, 2022

Notes

1 Charles Baudelaire, Windows

Support us!

You can help us
Donate

With the support of:

Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.