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Haim Be'er

Publication Year: 2013

When first published in 1979, Haim Be'er's Feathers was a critical and commercial success, ushering in a period of great productivity and expansiveness in modern Hebrew literature. Now considered a classic in Israeli fiction the book is finally available to English readers worldwide. In this, his first novel, Be'er portrays the world of a deeply religious community in Jerusalem during the author's childhood and adolescence in the 1950s and 60s. The novel is filled with vivid portraits of eccentric Jerusalem characters, chief among them the book's main character, Mordecai Leder, who dreams of founding a utopian colony based on the theories of the nineteenth-century Viennese Jewish thinker Karl Popper-Lynkeus. Similar high-flying dreams inspire the family of the narrator, strict Orthodox Jews with impractical minds and adventurous souls--men such as the narrator's father, who periodically disappears from home on botanical expeditions meant to prove that the willow tree of Scripture is in fact the Australian eucalyptus.

Experimental in structure and mood, Feathers features kaleidoscopic jumps in time, back and forth in the narrator's memories from boyhood to adulthood. Its moods swing wildly from hilarity to the macabre, from familial warmth to the loneliness of adolescence. Jerusalem and its inhabitants, as well as the emotional life of the narrator, are splintered and reconstituted, shattered and patched. This fragmentation, combined with a preoccupation with death and physical dissolution and dreamlike flights of imagination, evokes an Israeli magical realism.

Feathers was chosen one of the 100 Greatest Works of Modern Jewish Literature by the National Yiddish Book Center.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-11

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pp. xi-xiv

I am doubly happy to write this foreword to Haim Be’er’s Feathers— in the first place, because it is already a classic of modern Israeli literature, and in the second place, because having translated it into English over twenty years ago, soon after its appearance in Hebrew in 1979, I had long despaired of seeing my translation in print. ...

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Chapter One

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pp. 1-14

In those days right after the Yom Kippur War I belonged to a small detachment whose job it was to find what was left of the Israeli soldiers who had been killed in the battle for the Egyptian naval base there. Every morning at dawn we left our little room, which was attached to the morgue at Faid, ...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 15-31

My mother stopped to give them a sideways look as we passed the door in the hallway. Their two heads were bent over an oaktag sheet spread out before them and divided into tiny squares like a crossword puzzle. Books, rolled-up maps, and thick pads of paper whose colored tips made patterns like the wings of exotic birds were scattered over the table. ...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 32-50

As soon as Riklin left, my father slipped out of doors to stick the knife with which our guest had peeled the blood orange into the loose earth. Mrs. Adler, who was polishing her window, stopped work for a second, ran her fingers through her thin, uncombed hair, and inquired whether he was intending to open a knife nursery in the yard. ...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 51-68

My mother stood in the sunshine, her head thrown back and one eye shut tight. In front of her other eye she cradled an egg, which she scrutinized in the light. ...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 69-85

He fluttered in like a great, hairy moth, banging into doorways and dropping his briefcase full of coin bags, receipt books, and tin alms boxes at the entrance while declaring that it was ages since he had last come to see us and to inspect our School for the Blind box. No one besides me even noticed him come in. ...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 86-106

Leder helped me into my rubber poncho, let me out at the gate below, and asked whether I had been invited that evening to the banquet that Mrs. Ringel was giving in her Golgotha. He sketched a skull in the air with his hand and said amusedly that if, on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the quest of the True Cross, ...

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 107-126

“They carried me out just like the Austrian prince,” Leder guffawed as he sat the next morning in the Café Vienna, looking out the broad window at Zion Square. He puffed his cheeks, disdainfully blew out the air from them, and explained that he had read in Ben- Yehezkel’s collection of Jewish folktales ...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 127-142

After Leder’s stinging reversal in the Viennese Circle, the Nutrition Army’s forward command post was moved from the Café Vienna to Greenberg’s Bookbindery, which stood opposite the Alliance School at the top of Jaffa Road. There it stayed for the next two years, until the day of the great demonstration against the German reparations agreement, ...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 143-169

“The boy needs to be kept an eye on,” declared Ahuva Haris, who, let in that same day on the secret of my ties with Leder, insisted I wear a small linen bag full of camphor balls around my neck. As oil repelled water, she promised my mother, so the sharp smell of the crystalline substance would ward off Leder and his evil likes. ...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 170-184

“You’re not leaving the house today,” she stated categorically the minute I opened my eyes. The world wouldn’t come to an end, she insisted, if I missed a day of school. My school was near the Knesset building, and my mother, who did not believe in looking for trouble, ...

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Chapter Eleven

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pp. 185-203

Two days later, forty-eight hours after Leder’s arrest, I slipped away unnoticed from the packs of children streaming toward school and headed for the Russian Compound to see what would happen in court to the commander of the Nutrition Army. ...

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Chapter Twelve

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pp. 204-225

From the day I saw him dragged out of the courtroom and bundled through an emergency exit into a waiting van, I rose early every morning and made straight for the pile of newspapers in my parents’ grocery. Yet I failed to find a single mention of his case. ...

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Chapter Thirteen

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pp. 226-235

Not only did Behira Schechter’s visit cast new light on the last days of Leder, whose figure I have tried to portray in this book, it also officially sealed the story of my friendship with him and began another friendship that need not concern us. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781611684834
E-ISBN-10: 1611684838
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584653714

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013