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“Shezaf is the Jack Kerouac of the desert, a present day wandering Jew”
n early september 2001 Dorit and Tsur Shezaf took their three daughters (ages 14, 11 and 8) for a year long family tour of India,
politically charged novel which tells the fictional, but not impossible, story of the Bedouin rebellion in the Negev desert. It is the story of extraordinary
Tsur Shezaf, in his unique language and style, describes encounters in the distant deserts of Tibet and Somalia as well as in deserts closer at
hand – the Arab Desert in Jordan, the Sahara, the Sinai and the Negev.
On the background of the awe of the desert, traveling in trains, in buses, in taxis and in airplanes, Shezaf encounters Berbers, Kashmiris,
Ladakis and Bedouin. Is the desert the arid Tibetan plateau? Or the wandering sands of the Sahara? Or perhaps it is the dry savannahs of
Somalia during the civil war there when the inhabitants were dying ofstarvation? Shezaf, a veteran traveler and an experienced writer, may
already definitely be considered one of the pioneers in the field of Hebrew travel writing.
In his accounts, he develops the description of the journey as the backbone of the plot and as a literary framework in its own right.
His ability to observe and describe make reading this book engaging and interesting.
Tsur Shezaf, who has traveled on the Trans-Siberian railway and followed the Silk Road, knows just what a great traveler is.
Tsur Shezaf is, first and foremost, a traveler. A journeyer. His new novel, the seventh, uniquely blends a journey from Israel to Lebanon with an exploration of the two countries. Unlike his travel books, Shezaf charges the space in which the characters roam with lyricism, symbolism and mystical meanings.
The geographical expanse becomes fertile ground for illustrating the soul’s depths. Every plant, every plot of land, and every landscape are depicted with great esteem for their medical or purposeful significance for the characters, the emotions and memories they evoke, and their concrete and dramatic effect on the situation. The plot of The Lost Pilot’s Wife moves between these different layers, and Shezaf skips among them with ease and sensitivity.
The novel is told in a double voice: by Ruth, the wife of the lost pilot, who—we are told at the beginning of the book—has finally met her missing husband, whose plane went down in Lebanon and whose fate was unknown for decades. After their encounter, Ruth begins to write the story of her ordeal from the moment he disappeared. The second voice is that of Assaf, the pilot, who writes a letter intended for Ruth, in which he recounts his experiences since that fateful day when he parachuted down onto Lebanese soil. Through his story, we learn why he did not return to his wife or contact her for all these years.
The two voices are intertwined, turning our viewpoint back to the past. The reenactment of past events functions as a sort of effort to repair. The narrators tell their stories primarily in order to impose order upon their souls, and only secondarily in order to clarify their realities. Ruth often wonders what happened to Assaf, and her story is one of a private coping, of personal grief and a life stolen. Assaf, conversely, devotes almost no attention to Ruth in his story, although she is the recipient of the letter. He focuses to the extreme on “the death of Assaf and the birth of Yusuf,” the new identity he adopted—mostly unwillingly—in Lebanon.
This matter is critical, since the novel presents two completely different narratives. While Ruth’s story depicts Assaf as a present-absentee with great influence, Assaf’s stresses the absence of Ruth. Ruth’s own account occupies the national sphere no less than the personal. Her experience is not only that of a woman who has lost her beloved, but also of a citizen in face of the political machine.
The Lost Pilot’s Wife is not a travel book, yet the geography has great significance. There is an expectation that the arena of Tel-Aviv and northern Israel, though not always peaceful, would be safer than that of Lebanon. But this is not the case. Lebanon, with its mountains and flora, and its factious populations, emerges as a fertile expanse, and it is there, ironically, that Assaf finds salvation from death, and is able to resurrect himself (in a scene we will not spoil) and build a new life.
This conflicted and dangerous place is depicted as almost mystical, where things happen that could not occur anywhere else. Israel, on the other hand, with its problematic government, its political frauds, and complex imagery, is portrayed as a stifling space that does not lead to resurrection, to the foundation of new life, or to truth.
The discrepancies between the two places, much like the two narratives, emphasize the prosaic superiority of Assaf’s story as compared with Ruth’s. The geography is charged with emotional significance in both, but it is far more prominent in the context of Assaf’s location in Lebanon, where he adopts a new identity: a village doctor who specializes in botany.
The Tel-Aviv concrete and drab government offices are analogous to Ruth’s condition, but in terms of the prose itself, the Lebanese expanses allow the author to expand the borders of literary expression, with impassioned descriptions of flora and landscapes, which he connects impressively with Assaf’s psychological processes. While Ruth’s emotional reversals are depicted concisely, with local dryness and fairly simple language, Assaf’s experience, starting with his first fall onto Lebanese soil and all the way through his establishment as a respected doctor, moves along the axis between physical geography and the map of human emotions.
From Y-Net ( 5/18/2011)
by Yotam Schwimmer
Tsur Shezaf, in his unique language and style, describes encounters in the distant deserts of Tibet and Somalia as well as in deserts closer at hand – the Arab Desert in Jordan, the Sahara, the Sinai and the Negev.
On the background of the awe of the desert, traveling in trains, in buses, in taxis and in airplanes, Shezaf encounters Berbers, Kashmiris, Ladaks and Bedouin. Is the desert the arid Tibetan plateau? Or the wandering sands of the Sahara? Or perhaps it is the dry savannahs of
Somalia during the civil war there when the inhabitants were dying of starvation? Shezaf, a veteran traveler and an experienced writer, may already definitely be considered one of the pioneers in the field of Hebrew travel writing. In his accounts, he develops the description of
the journey as the backbone of the plot and as a literary framework in its own right. His ability to observe and describe make reading this book engaging and interesting. Tsur Shezaf, who has traveled on the Trans-Siberian railway and followed the Silk Road, knows just what a great traveler is.
5 Clock Squarethe old CityThe harborJaffa slopeAjami and the hill of Aliyah Clock Square Jaffa is one of the oldest cities there is. At least
Tsur Shezaf’s first book, “A Leopard in the Mountains,” makes an impressive entry into Hebrew literature. Its two short novellas should be read, I believe, as a single multi-voiced work in which the “mythology” of the leopard trap is a junction where everything intersects. In both sections we find Bedouins in the desert (the Arava, Sinai) and Shezaf’s awe-inspiring mastery of the power of nature, and the ambience (in addition to the strong plot situations) plays a major part in the story. And at first glance, the two sections could also be read as mirror images: In one, a Bedouin who is secretly raising his illegal son to be a paragon of the untamed ancient Bedouin ways, spends years cultivating his great act of defiance, inevitable battle and his preordained sacrifice – while his other sons, and he himself, have become fake “Jews’ Bedouin”. While in the other, the big “project” is just the opposite, a dream of roaming the great wide world that a Bedouin assigns to his “illegal” grandson (born of the slyly calculated mating of his daughter and a Christian monk), the pinnacle of this dream being for the boy to one day become “a pilot in the Israeli air force”: A Jews’ Bedouin, in other words.
And opposed to this sentence, as I shut the porthole against the Azeris, I could hear my father quoting Tom Stevens, his tutor at Oxford: “There is nothing that you can allow yourself not to know.” The maritime empire centered on the Mediterranean Sea.
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