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I recommend Benjamin Tammuz’s Hayei Elyakum (“The Life of Elyakum”), the first novel a trilogy written by the Russian-born Israeli. (The second novel, A Castle in Spain, was published in English in 1973.) A decidedly Israeli version of the picaresque, the book follows the accidental successes and inevitable failures of a young man in pre-State Israel as WWII rages in the background. The eponymous narrator’s candid revelations, equally candid omissions, and confounding blend of painful self-awareness and wildly unrealistic aspirations make him a compelling and deeply likeable figure. He describes the characters he encounters with Dickensian relish, and the novel is peppered with lovingly satirical depictions of Israeli society, foreshadowing the more cynical critique that was to emerge in much of Tammuz’s later work.
Jessica Cohen is the translator of numerous books from Hebrew, including works by David Grossman and Amir Gutfreund.
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