Alon Hilu and the Hebrew Historical Novel
Abstract

Abstract:

In this paper, I discuss Alon Hilu’s two historical novels, Death of a Monk (2004) and The Dejani Estate (2008), as symptomatic of Israeli culture of the twenty-first century. I argue that the question of genre—historical fiction—is as central to the construction of the novels as it is to their reception. As the latter evinces, historical fiction is perceived as blurring the proper boundaries between the “objective” and the imaginary and thus feeds anxieties about the relationship of Jews to history, anxieties that have been haunting Zionist discourses from their inception. Hilu’s novels trace these anxieties to concerns about sexuality and desire and employ them to explore the relationship between two central foci of the Hebrew historical novel, namely, historical agency and historical writing. The novels construct numerous “scenes of writing,” in which writing seeks to retrieve historical agency, embodied in the two novels by desire and sexual potency. Simultaneously, writing is revealed as a mere substitute for desire and sex. Both novels consequently suggest that writing attests to the failure to produce historical agency.