by Savyon Liebrecht. New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1998. 234 pp. $19.65.
Apples from the Desert is the first collection in English of short stories by one of Israel's most lyrical, penetrating, and measured women authors, Savyon Liebrecht. The volume is the fourth to appear in the Helen Rose Scheuer Jewish Women's Series, of the Feminist Press at the City University of New York. Comprising stories published in Hebrew between 1986 and 1992, this collection introduces Savyon Liebrecht to English readers as a writer who, finely translated, interweaves past and present times, and the coping efforts of Jewish and Arab individuals, families, and communities, in ways that invite repeated exploration of the intimate texture of contemporary life in Israel.
Savyon Liebrecht was born in Germany in 1948 to Holocaust survivors from Poland. She came to the newly established State of Israel as a young girl. The particular strength of this anthology is that it allows the first-or second-hand Holocaust memories of a number of Liebrecht's central characters to mingle with the personal resonances of the more current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the reader moves through the stories and experiences the echo of those just finished.
Lily Rattok is a prominent scholar of Hebrew literature and a pioneer of Women's Studies in Israel. As she explains in her introduction to this volume, Savyon Liebrecht was raised in a household that remained tethered to her parents' memories of the Holocaust and to their past struggles for survival. The particular language of this formative home was silence, while visual exchange, through glances and meaningful looks, as well as facial expressions, enabled more substantive communication.
In 1982, European film critic Yvette Biró described "visual thinking" as the cinematographer's awareness that the human eye, both on and in society, "always compares."(1) "Seeing is the confrontation of perception and knowledge," per Biró, and in their varying realization of this, as if captured on film, Liebrecht's characters exhibit their private and socially driven fears and foibles in sharp relief. Rattok writes that, "Liebrecht tries to play the role of a healer, presenting possibilities for mending the rifts that threaten the existence of Israeli society". The author may appear to be such a mender with respect to the cross-cultural encounters she sets up. These include confrontations between young Israelis and their seemingly intractable Holocaust survivor relatives, and encounters between different generations of Israelis with distinct socio-historical perspectives. Liebrecht also portrays relations between more and less advantaged Ashkenazic and Sephardic Israeli Jews, between Jews and Arabs, and in each of the above categories, encounters among and between men and women.
However, once brought together, Liebrecht's various selves and Others develop through the eye of a realist. Liebrecht does not allow past trauma, of whatever magnitude, to beatify survivors in a modern, fast-paced Israel, nor new cross-cultural experiences, often registered in meaningful looks, to herald cure-all ententes. Even in the space of a short story, Liebrecht's elderly characters are fascinating because of their obsessions and their inescapable degrees of self-centeredness. In this way they are on par with the protagonists in the only full-length Israeli novel to focus on an interplay of indomitable personalities in a suburban old age home and in Tel Aviv: Yehoshua Kenaz's The Way to the Cats (1991). …