No Room of Their Own: Gender and Nation in Israeli Women's Fiction

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by Yael Feldman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 337 pp. $16.50.

In its first century modern Hebrew prose fiction was primarily the domain of male writers. Women, when they wrote, expressed themselves in poetry, a literary form which was culturally approved as suitable for the female sensibility. As Yael Feldman notes in her ambitious literary study, No Room of Their Own, this peculiar correlation of gender and genre reflected both Hebrew's heritage in Jewish tradition as the male language of prayer and study, and modern Israel's specific contemporary circumstances as a society under siege. While early Zionism had purported to foster the model of a "New Hebrew Woman," the actual marginalization of women's literary aspirations, even in modernist and secular circles, represented a blatant contradiction between feminist aspirations and nationalist goals which continues to be played out in Israeli society and in Israeli literature.

Feldman's study delineates the new literary landscape shaped by a cohort of Israeli writers approximately of the 1980s who created strong and autonomous women "acting intentionally and purposefully as their own agents in a society still inhospitable to such a project". These authors, whose work Feldman examines for its belatedness, its specific literary shape, and its sociopolitical implications, include Shulamit Lapid, Amalia Kahana-Carmon, Shulamith Hareven, Netiva Ben Yehuda, and Ruth Almog. The book ends with an overview of younger female writers of the post-Zionist, post-modernist 1990s. Feldman believes these authors are no longer constrained by Israel's problematic conflict between feminist and nationalist ideologies which so profoundly shaped their predecessors' lives and writing. …