Written by S. Yizahar (trans. Nicholas de Lange)
Review by Viviane Crystal

Called “the founding Father of Israeli literature…and master of prose fiction,” Yizhar produced Preliminaries at a time when the majority of scholars and readers thought he had written all that was possible in one literary career. While the majority of the book tells the story of the author’s life in Tel Aviv between 1917 and 1930, this slice of life clearly parallels and represents the broader experience of settlers throughout Israel who are now living the dream of “the birth of the new Jew in the new Land… working the land as a free man, independent, neither exploiting nor being exploited.” The narrator is an adult remembering with an existential, stream-of-consciousness style, as when he spends chapters describing being stung multiple times at once by hornets, literally and symbolically depicting a naturally hostile environment amidst so much physical beauty and promise. The pre-Israeli independence history of Yizhar’s childhood is presented with all of its famous street names, political groups like the Irgun and Haganah, scholars, Biblical characters, the beginning of Ha’aretz news, British officials and more. Yizhar’s father represents the many socialist and scholarly citizens who cannot forget their religious background despite all efforts at shunning its simple and demanding nature. Childhood memory is overlaid by philosophical questioning and speculation about Israel’s future as it sacrifices its initially clear and clean goals to a more worldly definition of success.

Lest the reader think Yizhar’s perceptions are totally bleak, one captures in this poignant novel the passionate love this author has for the land, religion, scholarship, unity of its people, and so much more; it is deeply compelling reading on every page. Beginning with an intelligent, comprehensive critique of the author and the book by Dan Miron, this masterful novel is a keeper that will stun the reader with its beautiful but searing depth.