In 15 discussions with acclaimed Israeli and Palestinian writers, Norwegian novelist Isaksen looks at the intersection of art and armed conflict in the Middle East to determine whether literature can play a role in helping one side to see the other. In narrative interviews with writers including David Grossman (The Yellow Wind), Amos Oz (perhaps Israel's most famous), Meir Shalev, Mahmoud Shuqair and Liana Badr, Isaksen examines the obligation artists feel (or don't feel) to help bring peace to the region, the differences between being an Israeli and being a Jew, the likelihood of true democracy in Israel, the meaning of exile in the minds of Palestinians and other weighty topics. The result is a number of sharp insights into the process, promise and limits of art in the face of war; according to Oz, "the conflict is always in the background, but never in the foreground. I don't write to compete with the headlines." A founding member of Israel's Peace Now movement in 1977, Isaksen has been a political player for decades, giving him a firm grounding in the conflict and its literary legacy. This inquisitive guide illuminates the region in a fresh way, giving those already interested a new perspective and drawing in readers who might otherwise eschew modern Middle East history.
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Editor Isaksen is a Norwegian novelist, active in Norwegian writers' groups, increasingly interested in Israeli and Palestinian literature and curious about whether literature can bridge the divide between peoples at war. Norway's active role in sponsoring Arab-Israeli negotiations and support for Palestinian cultural institutions inspired him to consider the role of writers, as did his belief that connections between black and white writers helped end apartheid in South Africa. In 2002 and 2003, he interviewed 15 Israeli and Palestinian writers to see if they believed that their writing could help reduce the hostility and fear infusing their societies. Isaksen is not as interested in the content of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as he is in the prospect of strengthening the human understanding between two peoples, each with a strong sense of victimhood and loss. The result is a series of fascinating conversations with writers of different ages, genders, and styles, linked by their common experience of life in a culture under siege. Isaksen explores with them their understandings of issues of victimization and dehumanization, personal identity and national culture, and the contribution that literature can make to creating empathy between two peoples in conflict for many decades. This book will be of great value to readers with an interest in literature, and it provides sensitive insight into how writers approach their craft and how they view the social impact of their work in a volatile environment. A solid addition to public and academic libraries.
Elizabeth R. Hayford