- Spoiling The Stories: The Rise of Israeli Women's Fiction by Tamar Merin
Tamar Merin's Spoiling the Stories: The Rise of Israeli Women's Fiction offers a sophisticated perspective on Israeli women's prose from the Statehood Generation (a group of writers who began publishing during the 1960s and 1970s) and their writings' relationship to the male-centric canon of modern Hebrew literature. The book's three main chapters each offer a nuanced discussion of the literary corpus of one author: Yehudit Hendel, Amalia Kahana-Carmon, and Rachel Eytan, respectively. The analysis is guided by a mode of literary influence Merin terms "intersexual dialogue," a form of intertextuality in which women authors negotiate gender assumptions through poetics of dialogue, appropriation, and revision regarding their literary fathers, namely, canonical Hebrew figures such as S. Y. Agnon as well as non-canonical figures such as David Fogel and Uri Nissan Gnessin (p. 6). Along with drawing well-deserved attention to a group of writers who are little known to the English reader, this book is significant for offering an insightful discussion of the way women's literary voices are shaped within textual traditions that ostensibly privilege male voices.
Women authors of the Statehood Generation did not gain as much critical and popular acclaim as their male counterparts. Notably, male authors of that generation such as A. B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz are the most widely read and translated Israeli authors even today. In contrast, Hendel, Kahana-Carmon, and Eytan are little known outside of Israel, and even among the Israeli reading public their work rarely resonates beyond the halls of academic and literary circles. This disparity speaks to the patriarchal structures that inform modern Hebrew literature and that Merin interrogates in this study.
The introduction to the book aptly discusses the challenges that characterized women's entry into Hebrew literature. In traditional pre-Zionist Jewish society, women were excluded from studying the classic Hebrew texts of the Torah, the Midrash, and the Talmud and thus did not learn Hebrew. Women were therefore at a disadvantage when modern Hebrew language and literature emerged in the late nineteenth century, with few women participating in the fledgling literary scene. Furthermore, the traditional role assigned to the author of Jewish and Hebrew texts is that of an observer of the house of Israel, a poet-prophet whose mission is to comment on the situation of the people and guide them. Coming from a minority cultural position, women could not master the authority to comfortably occupy this position. Finally, women's positions in the field of Hebrew literature were limited by the androcentrism of the Zionist project [End Page 466] with its emphasis on the figures of the military hero and the halutz, the virile worker and defender of the land.
Under these circumstances, women's entry into the Hebrew literary scene was a complicated endeavor. In setting out to chart the place of women within Hebrew literary history, the feminist scholar, Merin contends, faces a related issue, namely, how to account for the relationship between women authors and a literary tradition that is mostly masculine without reenacting a patriarchal Oedipal plot in which women's writing is subjugated to the symbolic order of the father. Against the grain of the Oedipal structure, Merin offers the term "intersexual dialogue" to encompass "the various literary strategies employed by Israeli female prose fiction writers expressing their voice within a male dominant and (still) inherently Oedipal literary tradition" (pp. 5-6). Through this framework, Merin is able to describe a bi-directional relationship between the women authors of the Statehood Generation and their literary fathers, in which women echo but also subvert and challenge masculine narratives.
Chapter one focuses on the work of Hendel from the 1950s. Analyzing Hendel's novella Almanato shel Eliezer (1947; Eliezer's widow) and novel Rehov ha-Maderegot (1956; Street of Steps, 1963), Merin shows how Hendel invokes Agnon, a literary father rejected by the generation of authors before her. Adopting...