Boundaries and Crossing:

March 4, 2004
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An Interview with A. B. Yehoshua

VERED SHEMTOV: In your recent book, The Liberated Bride, more so than in any other, you examine boundaries and borders. What kind of boundaries are crossed or questioned in the book and how do they all relate to each other?

A. B. YEHOSHUA: The boundaries examined in this book are connected to boundaries in the family, in human relationships, in universities, and on the more political or national level. The question of boundaries of course is the main question of daily life. And this is one of the major questions of our lives: how we keep boundaries, what permission we have to cross boundaries, and how we do so. The book reflects on the question inspired by our boundaries with the Palestinians. It examines how people cross national and personal boundaries. I could have titled the book “Boundaries.” The question of boundaries is a major question of the Jewish people because the Jews are the great experts of crossing boundaries. They have a sense of identity inside themselves that doesn’t permit them to cross boundaries with other people. And this is the phenomena of the Jews from the beginning. They have a very strong nucleus of identity composed of religion and nationality that could let them cross boundaries; but there is also the conflict with their environment.

SHEMTOV: Is this Jewish identity related to the movement in the novel? People are constantly going places. They’re traveling, they’re leaving the country, coming back, traveling within Israel and so on.

YEHOSHUA: Traveling is one expression of the desire to cross boundaries.

SHEMTOV: One of the characters in the book argues that Agnon teaches that Israeli identity has been liberated from its preventionism and given wings.

YEHOSHUA: I don’t think that when Zionism began there was a claim that we were losing — even in part — our capacity to contribute to other peoples. People were afraid that, by coming to one state with borders to a territorial nationalist state, we would lose our ability to see the world, to move in the world, and to contribute to the world. But the answer was that as Israelis we would not lose this ability, but rather, we would perform this responsibility as a state rather than as individual Jews. As a state, we would still try to keep our ability to be a “light to the people,” “Or L’Goyim.” Unlike Christianity or Islam, which is open to any people in the world, we are restricting Judaism only to the Jewish people. One cannot join Judaism; someone not only has to convert to the religion but also has to change one’s nationality in order to be Jewish; in return, we give you something of delight that we possess. It’s a donation, or let’s say a compensation to the fact that you cannot join us. And this was a fury to the nations.

We must see what in the Israeli identity — in the Israeli — we can give to other people rather than speaking so often of taking, expanding territory. We can share what we are good at, our successes.

SHEMTOV: What can we learn from those who are in between cultures, who move from one culture to the other? Do you think that Israelis have something to teach others, because of being in this situation — between the East and West?

YEHOSHUA:     Not now. Now, we don’t have any moral justification to teach others because of our bad deeds and bad conduct and our desire to occupy other people. But, the fact that we are a multicultural society by nature, because there are so many cultures integrated in the Israeli culture — Jews coming from all over the world and bringing the culture with them — and the fact that we border the East and West, could give us a certain lens to see things and to contribute new elements to the world question of a multicultural society. One of the dreams of Zionism was to be a bridge. Instead, we are creating exclusion between the East and the West instead of creating bridges; we are contributing to the conflict between East and West by our stupid desire to have more.

SHEMTOV: What is the role of intimate, personal relationships and understanding “the other” in literature?

YEHOSHUA: Intimate relationships are a gold mine for literature to explore, to understand, to describe. In this novel, especially between the couple, I wanted to create a daily relationship between loving and equal partners where the problems of intimacy are examined. It is a constant work that can never be neglected. I wanted to describe a relationship between loving people when love is not enough.

SHEMTOV: In an interview in the Jerusalem Post you said that in The Liberated Bride you allowed yourself to open the door to personal material more than ever before. I was wondering why now? And what was it about this book that opened the personal door? Does it have anything to do with the theme of intimacy that seems to be part of the book?

YEHOSHUA: I think I had been too restricted in not allowing personal material to enter my books. I am of an age now when I ask myself, why be secretive? I was quite happy to introduce here and there elements of my life and to be helped by them in the book.

SHEMTOV: You mentioned a long novella that you’re working on right now. Do you maintain the same sense of optimism that we saw in The Liberated Bride?

YEHOSHUA: No. I think this novella is very gloomy, very dark, and very macabre in a certain way. It doesn’t have this sense of optimism or vivid humor that I felt in The Liberated Bride. I don’t think people will laugh reading the novella.

SHEMTOV: In your last two novels you seem to be looking at the past in order to understand the present.

YEHOSHUA: Yes. I am very much concerned because I fear how much the past dominates the present. How much we are bound to the past. And how much we cannot liberate ourselves from that past. To understand the past, in order to correct it, is what I wanted, in order to be rid of the past. Not in order to be inspired by the past, but to see the past and understand what was wrong in the past in order to change it. The Jews were taking the past as something fixed because it was mainly mythology, and myth you cannot change. But history is something that we can learn, can change; we can compare ourselves with the other and then move on.

SHEMTOV: At the end of the novel the wife says that truth doesn’t always liberate us, sometimes it entangles.

YEHOSHUA: Yes. This is her view because she’s a judge and there is a certain time you have to get stuck to the truth. And of course, this is an attitude that, say, history can also from time to time suffocate. So with truth — there is a certain moment when one can say, this is the truth and here I put a dot, a stop, and I go to another thing. A judge has to put an end to a deliberation. But for a historian, there’s never an end to the past. It can go on and on and on.

SHEMTOV: And for the writer?

YEHOSHUA: For the writer, he has to finish the work and he says, yes, here’s the truth. The writer is more like a judge than a historian.

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Noted Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua speaks with Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature Vered Shemtov about his most recent novel, The Liberated Bride. Yehoshua is the author of several novels and was the keynote speaker at the 2003 Koret Jewish Book Award. He discusses the place of boundaries in his work and life.

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