From Publishers Weekly
S. Yizhar is penname of Yizhar Smilansky (1916-2006), who fought in Israel's 1948 War of Independence, served in the Knesset and wrote major fictions of early zionism, including Days of Ziklag. In 1992, at the age of 76, Yizhar wrote this autobiographical novel set in Palestine roughly between 1917 and 1930, fictionalizing his youth with his father, mother and elder brother. As it opens, "Daddy," 45, strives to farm the hardscrabble land near the Negev and likes to write and read during his off-hours. "Mummy" dislikes their harsh life in the settlements, and questions their decision to stay. Friction with Arab neighbors is seen through a child's impressionable eyes. Money problems beset the family, especially during the depression. The rich, vibrant descriptions of the landscape and settlers stand out, as do homespun anecdotes such as movie-going and kite-flying. After 40 peripatetic years, the two parents use their life savings to build their own three-room house in a settlement. The episodic nature of these "preliminaries" requires readerly patience, but anyone interested in Israel's origins will find them to be of interest.
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Strongly autobiographical, this last novel by a late, eminent Israeli writer weaves together adult memories of the harsh Zionist pioneer experience before 1930 with the immediate sensations of himself as a child. The stream-of-consciousness style is intimidating, but the translation from the original 1992 Hebrew version is clear and eloquent, and the narrative moves fast, blending present with past and past with future. The bloodstained Arab-Jewish conflict is always there, including racism about backward, filthy natives versus enlightened, clean, cultured immigrants. But it is the child's viewpoint of small things that tells the political and national abstractions. When grown-ups speak, he does not understand every word, but he can tell what is cover-up. The memory of being stung by wasps as a toddler is terrifying; it is also a metaphor for the land's response to invasion. Powerful coming-of-age fare, yet the style will limit the audience to adults. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved