Reading Advice From Phillip Lopate
The book I’ve read recently that has affected me most deeply is Khirbet Khizeh by S. Yizhar. This novella-length account of Israeli soldiers evacuating a Palestinian village, whose name happens to be Khirbet Khizeh, is considered a classic of modern Hebrew literature. It was first published in 1949 and has only now been translated into English (by Nicholas de Lange and Yaacob Dweck), and put out by the invaluable Ibis Editions in one of their handy, pocket-sized, brown-wrapper design papebacks. S. Yizhar (the pen-name of Yizhar Smilansky) was a sophisticated literary stylist who wrote this book in a Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness, which powerfully captured the conflict between individual conscience and military solidarity. This one little book, told in first person and obviously autobiographical, is so timely that you wonder why any more needs to be written about the current Israeli-Palestinian strife. Brutal and harsh, it is one of the great pieces of war literature. Yizhar (about whom an appreciation recently appeared in the New York Review of Books) is also known as the greatest celebrant of the Israeli landscape; and he describes that semi-arid, contested terrritory with immense sensitivity.
Curiously enough, I happened last week to go to a screening of an Israeli film called “Lebanon” at the New York Film Festival. This highly touted movie has won prizes at international film festivals, and will soon open in the United States. It takes place mostly inside a tank and is set during the Israeli army’s occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980s. Apart from the technical feat of encapsulating a feature length movie in such as claustrophobic space (see also “Das Boot”), I found it to be fairly trite, the screenplay playing along the lines of a 1940s war movie, with the coward, the soldier who rises to the occasion, etc. I wanted to tell everyone in the audience that they were wasting their time; they would be better off reading Khirbet Khizeh. There are intimacies and subtleties that literature may be finally more suitable for delivering than movies.
Photo: S. Yizhar (ibiseditions.com)
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