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When he visited Israel in 1975, Saul Bellow kept an account of his experiences and impressions. It grew into an impassioned and thoughtful book. As he wryly notes, "If you want everyone to love you, don't discuss Israeli politics." But discuss them is very much what he does. Through quick sketches and vignettes, Bellow evokes places, ideas, and people, reaching a sharp picture of contemporary Israel. The reader is offered a wonderful panorama of an ancient and modern world city. Like every other visitor to Israel, Bellow tumbles into "a gale of conversation." He loves it and he makes the reader feel at home.
Bellow delights in the liveliness, the gallantry of Israeli life: people on the edge of history, an inch from disaster, yet brimming with argument and words. He delights not in tourist delusions but with a tough critical spirit: his Israel is pocked with scars and creases, and all the more attractive for it. Simply as a travel book, the reader finds remarkable descriptions, such as one in which Bellow finds "the melting air" of Jerusalem pressing upon him "with an almost human weight" Something intelligible is communicated by the earthlike colors of this most beautiful of cities.
The impression that Bellow offers is that living in Israel must be as exhausting as it is exciting: a murderous barrage on the nerves. Israel, he writes, "is both a garrison state and a cultivated society, both Spartan and Athenian. It tries to do everything, to make provisions for everything. All resources, all faculties are strained. Unremitting thought about the world situation parallels the defense effort." Jerusalem's people are actively and individually involved in universal history. Bellow makes you share in the experience.