Preliminaries

Gabriel Piterberg writes:

Yizhar’s finest work is the autobiographical novel Preliminaries, which he completed in the summer of 1991, when he was 75. The book describes the memories and experiences of an excruciatingly thin, socially marginal, lonely and troubled child – troubled about himself, about his family and about his community. It is set between 1918 and 1928, when the child reaches the age of 12, and takes place first in the agricultural landscape of the moshavas to the south-east of Tel Aviv, shifting to the city itself (expanding fast in the 1920s) before returning at last to the countryside. Miron identifies ‘two vital tasks’, one literary and one political, which the book performs. The first is to supply ‘a key of sorts’ to Yizhar’s ‘fictional world’. The second is to deepen and expand his role as an observer and critic of the unfolding Zionist saga. In the process, we come to see that the question the novel asks – what is it like to be the child of a settler? – could be asked not only about Palestine, but about almost any colonial situation.

(LRB 26 February 2009)

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