Obituary for Abraham B. Yehoshua: Opening the Heart to Death

If a prominent person dies, whoever posts the news first must credit the source. When the dpa agency reported the death of writer Abraham B. Yehoshua on Tuesday morning, it referred to Israeli President Izchak Herzog. He announced the death and described Yehoshua as “one of the greatest writers and storytellers in the State of Israel”. The Israel National Library, which keeps his archive, considers him a synonym for modern Israeli literature.

In fact, at least three names should be mentioned for contemporary literature written in Hebrew. In addition to Yehoshua (often spelled Yehoshua), these are Amos Oz, who died in 2018, and David Grossman, born in 1954. All three have been listed as Nobel Prize candidates several times, and all three share a commitment to peace in the Middle East. In this sense, they have occasionally joined forces for appeals.

Yehoshua’s works have appeared in 30 languages

Abraham B. Yehoshua was born on December 9, 1936 in Jerusalem. When he moved to France in 1963 after studying in Israel, where he taught at the Sorbonne, he had already published his first volume of short stories. Until the beginning of this millennium, Yehoshua taught literary studies and Hebrew literature in Haifa as well as in British and American universities. His plays, stories, essays and 14 novels have been translated into 30 languages. In the 1980s in the GDR, stories under the title “In view of the forests” and the novel “The Lover” were published by the publishing house Volk und Welt.

Most recently, the novel “Der Tunnel” was published in German (Verlag Nagel & Kimche), in which a retired road construction engineer slowly becomes demented. With indulgent humor, Yehoshua describes the man’s lapses, who then, on a journey into his own past, end up meeting a Palestinian girl. As, for example, in the novels “Freundesfeuer” (2010) and “Die Passion des Personnel Representatives” (2006), the basic conflict of the State of Israel enters the story in a roundabout way.

In Yehoshua’s books there are deaths on both sides, both soldiers and passersby who die from rockets. “As a writer, it is my ethical duty to puncture the black plastic with my pen, to open my heart to death, with love and compassion,” he said.

But when he was interviewed by Deutschlandfunk Kultur about the “Tunnel”, he expressed resignation in relation to his life’s work. A two-state solution had become impossible, he said in November 2019. Abraham B. Yehoshua blamed the European states and the USA because they “did not vehemently oppose Israel’s settlement policy”.

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