Khirbet Khizeh by S.Yizhar


This is considered a modern classic of Hebrew Literature ,written in the dying embers of the Israeli war of independence ,it was an instant bestseller in Israeli we had to wait to 2008 and the american publication and this year the uk publication of a translation .S.Yizhar was a serving officer in the intelligence officer in the Givati brigade one of the six division that fought in the war of independence .He later served in the Israeli parliament Knesset for the Rafi Party .This book was described by David Grossman  .

S.Yizhar gave us ,the Israelis ,the language to speak about war and its price .No one did so with such courage ,such trenchant honesty and such literary genius .

High words of praise from David Grossman .

The book opens a troop are asked to clear a village of its Palestine residents ,this village they find is called Khirbet Kizeh ,this expulsion is told through the eyes of the narrator of the book .Hew and his fellow solders move on into the village and start moving its residents ,angry men and women on out of the village , Yizhar catches this scene of absolute chaos and madness with clear prose and panache ,what could easily been over the top in a less skilled hand the horrific scene is turned into something poetic and thoughtful .The Narrator struggles as the day unfolds ,how his fellow troop of six men go from cheerful guys to dour stern-faced chaps ,although there is no violence the is always a sense that there may be ,as they view the silent war beaten residents of the village leaving their homes ,this is a heartbreaking scene and the Narrator struggles to comprehend the reasons for this   force evacuation and questions why they are doing and did this ,there is a harrowing scenes when they find two older women by the side of the road that are mistreated by the men in the heat of the moment .

Long live Hebrew Khizeh ! who then ,would ever imagine that once there had been some Khribet Khizeh that we emptied out and took for ourselves ,we came ,we shot ,we burned ,we blew up ,expelled ,drove out and sent into exile .

what in god’s name were we doing in this place .

The narrator questioning his actions after the expulsion of the village .

The Grossman quote is fitting ,this book is like the opposite side of his” to the end of the land” ,this is like the son’s experiences if the story was set fifty years earlier ,war is war the same now as it was 1949 .This book is a set text in Israeli schools and is considered the first true account of the war of independence from the hebrew point of view . Yizhar’s epic Days of Ziklag is probably due a translation into english this 1200 page epic is the follow on to the wonderful novel also about the war the experience is expanded out to seven days ,I hope one day it is I will for one be front of the cue for it .

Winston’s score –

The return of Winston’s score is because I love the Israeli dog the Canaan ,like this book and its narrator  it is a survivor  and symbol of Israeli .

winstons round up

A quick round of some things going on I ve seen around web and on twitter and a e-mail I was sent about a new translation .

New Julio Cortazar prose piece –I received a e-mail from Guernica magazines poetry editor telling me about Anne Maclean’s new Julio Cortazar translation of Prose from the observatory ,A extract is on Guernica here ,well worth a look the book is published later this year on archipelago  books in june .

Prize news –The new panel for this years Independent foreign fiction prize 2011 the are .

The judges for this year’s prize are:

  • Harriett Gilbert, writer, academic and broadcaster
  • Author, M J Hyland
  • Catriona Kelly, writer and Professor of Russian at the University of Oxford
  • Novelist and reviewer, Neel Mukherjee
  • Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor of theIndependent

A diverse list of Judges my only Gripe with the prize is it name a little to long maybe a catchy replacement needed  and fact it needs a high-profile with the reading public  this year booktrust are running it hope they promote it more than in past years it need it long list out in march I will be sure to list this is my favourite prize .

Next week sees the three percent long list for best translated book award ,the american cousin to our Independent prize on 27th I will post the long list when I find it out and link to any books I ve reviewed .

Google word search – Is google Ngram view that will graph a words popularity from 1860 til now on a graph ,this uses the 6 million books google have scanned and can use fiction and non fiction for your search have fun .

Billiards at half past nine by Heinrich Boll

source – Library

Heinrich Boil was probably the best post war german writer ,he won the Nobel prize in 1972 .When I lived in germany in early nineties he was vert well known and on my return to the uk I read a couple of his books ,But late last year when I ordered from library found there wasn’t much in stock so choose this probably his best known book in germany .

Billiards at half nine is About a businessman Robert Fahmel  in Koln he is architect ,his secretary tells us about him and his habits ,but we are also told about his families history back to the 19th century a rich history ,We learn that Robert was opposed to the Nazis during the war and also about a conflict the host of buffalos and host of the lambs this is to all do with the church but in a greater sense harks back to the war and the battle of Nazism and pacifism during the war ,we also visit the battle of Kiev during the war .

Robert was not yet two and Otto not yet born ; I was on leave and for a long while had clearly known what I had once vaguely sensed ;that irony was inadequate and always would be inadequate ,that it was inly narcotic for the privileged, and I ought to have done what Johanna did ; I ought to have spoken to the boy ,in my captains’ uniform ,but I merely listened to him as he went on reciting .

Robert father in a flashback  in 1917 on return to home from fighting on-line in world war one .

I found this a tough little book to work through I felt as thou a secom=nd reading would help if I see a cheap copy I will pick it up it has a real depth and complex plot that has a lot of allusions to world war to but in some ways the struggle of religion in germany over history .Boll is a wonderful writer I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in german feelings post war its easy to see the main character as a   Heinrich boll he lives in Koln like Boll and is a similar age to Boll .Boll fought in the Wehrmacht in the second world war ,in Russia so the battle of Kiev scenes I would feel are Boll’s own experiences .The copy I had from library was a Jupiter edition from 1973 and was translated by Patrick Bowles .


The hare with amber eyes by Edmund De Waal

There are occasions when you keep stumbling into a title hearing about here and there and maybe not having a inital spark to read it well this is one such book .In the period Just before christmas I heard Edmund on a radio and interviewed on the book show on sky arts ,and I warmed to this bio ? well it is a bio of the objects in it .Well Edmund De Waal is an English Ceramic artist that was train in Japan and winner of prizes for his ceramics , inherited a family collection of Nettsuke (craved ivory or bone pieces that were used to secure pouches from belts in 17th Japan )   from an uncle that he stayed with whilst he trained in his youth at the Mejiro studio in Tokyo .

So the book opens with Edmund getting these Nettsuke from His uncle Iggie a wonderful man he spent time with whilst training in Japan in his youth .He Knows A little of the 264 Nettsukes history from his uncle but decides to trace where they went and who owned them for the last 140 years from the 1870’s .He discovers the person that brought them a distant relative Charles Ephrussi a rich Jewish banker that lived in Paris .This man was in love with Japanese art that was the Vogue of the time ,Charles enjoyed connecting with people in the world of art and literature Knowing Proust Degas and Renoir .a man who lived comfortably but near the end of his time things were turning against the Jewish people in France ,the Nettsuke then move on to the turn of the century coffee houses society of Vienna This is the grand children of Charles story of vienna the rise of anti semitic feeling but also the blossoming of Vienna pre world war one with people like Freud and Klimt in the background .

In March 1899 , Charles’s generous wedding gift for Viktor and Emmy is carefully grated up and taken from the Avenue d’lena ,leaving the golden carpet ,the empire fauteulis and the Moreaus .It travels across Europe and is delivered to the Palais Ephrussi in Vienna on the corner of the Ringstrasse and the schottengasse .

The Nettsuke leave Charles possession the original owner and travel to Vienna to start a new tale .

the Nettsuke of the title

The book is full of love and insight into being Jewish in Europe at this time which Has been at times hard  the Nettsuke arrive in England Just before the war with Viktor then end up back home so to speak in Japan with Edmund uncle before arriving in his possession .Well what can I say about this book other than you should read it ,I was touch in many ways ,I always wonder what stories objects I ve been given via family have ,my grandfather was an Antique dealer and restorer so I grew up looking and sometimes touching unusual items like these nettsukes in this modern age the wonderment these intrigue items can give is pleasing I have a small craved elephant in ivory and its feel and look priceless objects like this are so rarely made nowadays but as De Waal testifies can over time and place produce wonderful stories . This book has a timeless feel even thou it has just been written which is a real achievement from a first time writer ,It also just won the Costa book prize for Biography ,which it richly deserved .

The Italian Job

These are books for my Italian week which I ll be starting to read next week and posting week after and for the year-long books in Italy challenge Have a couple of other Italian Noir novels on way from Library so looking forward to spend time in Italy this month well at least in Books .The two I’m most nervous about are Foucault’s pendulum and if on a winter’s night a traveller .These two are meant to be challenging to say the least .I will also be doing an Italian cooking post about the food and wine I love from Italy .Also at end be talking about the translators and what they brought to the books .

So have you read any of these ?

What yopur favourite Italian dish ?

Library cuts ,hope there not too bad

A piece in last weeks guardian about local government cuts mention that libraries are the soft belly to be cut .Well for me this would be a nightmare on a tight budget Library books make most of my reading material ,as I read some obscure titles my local library system and there online ordering is a god send for me .as with the book in the picture I watch a recent programme on Italian noir that evening ordered the book to borrow from library and picked up this week .My local library is a small sub library with friendly helpful staff and a good small selection ,my hope is this doesn’t get cut ,there is a large library in the centre of Chesterfield where I live this is one of the best stocks libraries in the UK due to its high rate of borrowing the fifth in the UK .but to get there is a bus ride and I don’t always have time to get there .so hoping my library that is five min walks from my house is kept .



The book of chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agulusa

This was a reread for me I read this just after it came out in 2007 and wondered if on second reading would be as good as the first and I m pleased to say yes this book is firmly in my favourite african books of all time .Jose Eduardo Agualusa is a Angolan  writer he lived in Brazil briefly but now divides his time between Lisbon and  Luanda he has written 7 novels so far this was the 2007 Independent foreign fiction winner .

The book is a series of interlocking stories  or vignettes that are set in modern-day Angola and involve Felix Ventura an albino weaver of new histories for people ,these stories are narrated by a gecko that is a reincarnation of a dead man ,Well as you see this is firmly in magic realism or african mysticism ,Felix is a type fixer helps people rewrite their lives change there histories ,he is also albino which from what little I know in some parts of africa is a bad omen or a good omen but in felix’s case it seems to give him an air of detachment from the people he deals with .The strength of the book lies in the way it deals with Angola’s  past at times violent and how these people look to the future .Felix is so good that one person decides to search into his new past with shocking results .

Once ,when I was in my old human form ,I decided to kill myself .I wanted to die ,completely .I hoped for eternal life ,heaven and hell ,god ,the devil .reincarnation ,all that stuff ,was no more than slowly woven superstition ,devolped over centuries and centuries ont mans greatest terror .There was a gun shop right by my house .

The gecko remember his past life .

Dreams also interweave the books ,Like dreams the new histories rewrites people are never the same and always different .This book is funny in parts and very poignant in others ,such a bright book from such a dark stories and the sadness of Angola’s  past is a real work of art .Like my fellow blogger Kinna rereading this is a timely reminder of the need to read more Lusophilla literature .The book was translated by Daniel Hahn who shared the Independent prize as the translator . for ,me this is a bridge between the african village fiction I love and the latin american magic realism I love ,in parts I remembered Borges or Marquez in others Okri came to mind .




Right first of be starting war and peace readalong tomorrow be reading 150 pages every two weeks and starting from tomorrow the first discussion to be on the 24th jan on first 250 then every second monday for two weeks .I ll be using the Oxford University press new edition For Tolstoy’s centenary year .

Looking forward to loads of discussion on a book that I really should have read before now AND THE OUP version is the most up to date edition as well .Sorry for delay been busy month work wise .


In post this week .I received a Israeli classic Khirbet Khizeh by S Yizhaer this 1949 novella is written about an expulsion of a Palestine village during the 1948 war and is considered a classic of modern Hebrew literature, Yizhar is described as a liteary genius by David Grossman .Many thanks to Henry at granta for sending it ,He has a wonderful blog on drinks you might want to check .


Come dine with writers

I love to watch the show come dine with me ,shown here in the uk it involves four or five in old episodes people going a three course meal and then mark each other ,part the entertainment is the food and the other part is the chat ,well I thought what would be the best writers to do this with ?so I came up with three .

HARUKI MURAKAMI –sure later this year well all be Murakamied out with the challenge running but sure he would be a fascinating dinner guest how his mind work and maybe the chance of Japanese food would be great mix .also his taste in music isn’t half bad as well .

JAMES JOYCE – Joyce like Murarkami is a deep thinker and a complex guy with a wonderful way with words ,but I feel there would be loads of drink on his night as well the black stuff would flow and people relax and maybe eat some of the traditional Irish dishes I grew up eating when on holidays at my grans when young ,like soda bread mmm


winner 2010 sofi oksanen



SOFI OSKANNEN – She looks pretty and I ve never tasted Baltic cooking be interest what she’d make also ,sure she is also a passionate person to chat with that is one of the main things I got from Purge is her passion for the people she wrote about .


Mordechai’s moustache and his wife’s cats by Mahmoud Shukair

source – library

Mahmoud Shukair was born in Jerusalem mount scopius in 1941 ,studied philosophy at university and was Palestine minster of culture from 97 -00 ,he has also been a Journalist and is currently working on the  mahmoud Darwish prize ,he has a great site in arabic that I translated via  google .Mordechai’s moustache is a collection of stories and Vignettes his first collection to be translated in to english by Banipal books .

The book has four longer short stories ,all funny and poignant in their own ways ,a talk about the Columbian pope star Shakira hows family originate from Palestine originally ,a tale about will the brazilian footballer Ronaldo come to Palestine ,the title story a funny tale set on a board post a touch of gallows humor .But the main part I loved was the Vignettes these were total gems ,they remind me of Ben Okri describing the process when he wrote his ultra short stories for tales of freedom as being like fiction Hakiu ,well I think these are like that ,these are like postcards of life under fire  a Polaroid of Palestine some of these made me belly laugh the man sing to a women that had moved ,others were dark a murder scene by a fountain,you jump in and out weather it shopping ,loss .It is clever mix the palenstine situaton leads to a dark humour which is wonderfully caught in the title story .the stories are vivid are vibrant

Mordechai was a simple man .There were tens of thousands like him in Tel Aviv .However ,he insisted that there were few like him there .He liked to live an easy , comfortable life , not disturbing anyone and not being disturbed by anyone .that,s why Mordechai continued to be like by his neighbours ,for he did not disturb them .mordechai joined the army and left it .

opening of title story .

Most of the stories were translated by Issa Bouletta ,who’s retired gentleman I read a couple of years ago another book worth reading .the book is short 110 pages .a  wonderful view of a fractured land and its people

Have you read any Palestine fiction ?

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January 2011


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