The World a Moment Later

Written by Amir Gutfreund (trans. Jessica Cohen)
Review by Phyllis T. Smith

This novel, translated from the Hebrew, is by a prize-winning novelist who served in the Israeli air force. Leapfrogging back and forth through time, it presents a sweeping panorama of Israeli history from the 1920s, when the Jewish state was just a dream, through the 1970s. At the beginning of the novel, Leon Abramowitz arrives in Palestine as a journalist, never intending to settle there. To his dismay, his editor wants him to write articles falsely glorifying the Jewish settlers. Eventually the editor embezzles money from the newspaper and leaves Leon stranded in Palestine, and he becomes a pioneer by default.

Although there is heroism and tragedy in this novel, the tone is ironic and often humorous. The writing is clear, unvarnished, and has a simple beauty. Abramowitz’s eldest son Chaim prospers, acquiring land, and founding the Abramowitz Estate. The Estate’s employees range from the retiring, bookish Gunter to Lerer, a Holocaust survivor who leads his own small army of merciless fighters in Israel’s War of Independence. We also meet a would-be assassin, an electrician who enjoys setting fires, a fertility doctor who falls in love with the one patient he seems powerless to help, and other vividly drawn individuals. The book is so densely populated and has so many storylines that without the list of characters at the beginning, I would have found myself lost several times. Some readers may miss a prolonged focus on one character, but the true protagonist of this novel is a nation surviving in face of the constant threat of war. Guttfreund does not idealize or vilify Israel, Israelis, or human beings in general. He gives the reader a sense of his affection for all three. I cannot imagine reading this book without being deeply moved by the story of Israel.