Here and Now: History, Nationalism, and Realism in Modern Hebrew Fiction

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Here and Now: History, Nationalism, and Realism in Modern Hebrew Fiction, by Todd Hasak-Lowy. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008. 161 pp. $22.95.

Based on a doctoral dissertation, this book offers both more and less than the title promises. On the one hand, it brings together three timely topics - history, nationalism, and realism - in contemporary critical theory; on the other it does not sufficiently explore the complexity of each of these important concepts, suggesting a rather simplistic definition for each and constructing an apparenr paradox based on their conjunction.

The book basically defends the Hebrew canon against recent feminist and postcolonial critiques regarding the exclusion of minority discourses. HasakLowy argues that male Ashkenazi hegemonic writers like S. Y. Abramovitz, Y. H. Brenner, S. Y. Agnon, and S.Yizhar wrote fiction from the margins as it were, fiction that was experimental, iconoclastic and critical of mainstream national ideas. Thus, for example, Abramovitz's Tfoe Travels of Benjamin the Third is a satire of Zionist travel utopias and of Zionism tout court, while Brenner's From Here and There represents the pioneering enterprise in Eretz Israel in modernist tet ms as a fragmentary and subjectivist experience. While the complexity of the works under discussion in this book has already been analyzed by previous critics, Hasak-Lowy recasts these readings, emphasizing the approach to Zionism as a coherent theme.

This is both the strength and the weakness of the book. While the book argues correctly that the production of literature is part of the process that produces the nation, it does not acknowledge that national counter-narratives, critiques, and challenges also represent aspects of the narration of the nation. National narrations are here too easily identified as ideological coherencies or socialist realistic descriptions of the national collective as a coherent story. The book at times overstates its point, as when it argues for example that Agnon's "epic realism was embraced, while the critical nature of the same realism was ignored and its perplexing and troubling modernism denigrated" (p. …