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Midnight Convoy & Other Stories

S.Yizhar


" ...even if it were possible that on the other side (where nobody watches) amid the evening mists making their way down from the hills, even if there is some other sadness over there maybe, some misery of who knows what, some misery of shameful inaction, some waiting woman, some who-can-know-what decree of life, who knows what very very private individual, who knows what else that may be even more universal, which the setting sun is going to leave here, among us, never brought to an end?"

Reviewed by James Murray-White

Rarely have I read stories that literally are of the soil: Yizhar writes from the ground up, and seems so firmly rooted in the earth of the Middle East that humans often exist only on the periphery of some of the stories in this collection. Characters certainly feature in them; Ephraim in Ephraim goes back to alfalfa epitomises the struggles of a kibbutznik wishing to change his work, but faces the ponderous debates of the kibbutz committee for work allocation, and the individual is tensely pitted against the collective, which results in humour as well as pathos. 

My favourite story of this collection, The Prisoner, centres upon a captured man – a humble shepherd whom we actually learn little about - but Yizhar brilliantly uses him as a metaphor for man’s morality and humanity, and lack of it, particularly in times of conflict. The writer throws in to the hot mix of this brutal story and alternate reality – after all the capture and torturous questioning of this man, he addresses both his own character as well as the reader: 

Where’s your sense of honour? Where’s that far-famed independence of thought? Where’s the freedom, 3 cheers for freedom, the love of liberty?

But principally Yizhar is a writer of landscape. In every story he takes the reader back to ground level, down in the “cinnamon soil”, as in the title piece, Midnight Convoy, where soldiers relentlessly labour through the night to get a convoy of trucks through to a besieged city, dodging environmental and enemy hazards, across the 114-page epic. This story is too long and lost my interest halfway through; the tension that the soldiers face is elongated and diffused with lyrical passages about the landscape they trek through, and they and their mission becomes a secondary consideration to the vastness of the landscape. This technique works against itself, other than reinforcing the futility of man’s actions. 

In The Runaway, the writer really finds his place in describing the tensions and attractions between the human and the natural world. This is great writing that explores the opposites of animal and man, youth and age, freedom and captivity, and wildness and wilderness versus sterility; all this expressed through Yizhar’s description of the fertility of the landscape: 

Ah yes, the soil. Care to hear something about the soil out there – …  about the soil that never moves on, but is always stirred by the flurrying wind? It’s beautiful soil, so brown and warm and dark, and always there’s a whitish veil fluttering and frothing over it.  … But before long you realise that there’s quite a lot, and in the end you realize – if you love the place – that there’s everything there, that it’s the beginning and end of everything. There’s the warm brown, to begin with, and the warm gold too.

S.Yizhar’s stories are epic descriptions of land and mankind floundering in the landscape: these are stories that anyone with a love of the land, anywhere in the world, should dig deeply into.

James Murray-White is a freelance writer and reviewer based in Jerusalem, Israel. He is a contributing editor to the environmental website Greenprophet.com, and is in engaged in producing a documentary film about Bedouin life in the Negev Desert.

  
 











PublisherToby Press

Publication Date:May 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: S. Yizhar (Yizhar Smilanksy) was born in Rehovot, Israel in 1916 to a family of Russian immigrants. He fought in the 1948 War of Independence, served in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), was a professor of education at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and of Hebrew literature at Tel Aviv University. He won many prizes for literature in his lifetime, and other publications include the novels Preliminaries and Days of Ziklag.

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