Abigail Nussbaum on With Both Feet in the Clouds: Fantasy in Hebrew Literature, edited by Hagar Yanai and Danielle Gurevitch

Abigail Nussbaum brings up a lot of points in her analysis of the book With Both Feet in the Clouds. Here’s an excerpt:

This isn’t something that I think about very often, but I live half my life in a foreign language.  It’s the language I’m writing in right now.  My actual, physical life, is lived in Hebrew.  It’s the language I work in, the one I shop and bank and commute in, the one I use with friends and acquaintances and people on the street.  But it’s not the language I write in, because it’s not the language I read in.  I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but somewhere around the point that I transitioned from children’s books to adult fiction, I stopped reading Israeli writers, for reasons that I suspect will be familiar to many Israeli genre fans–because the books that caught my fancy, the Asimovs and Tolkiens and Pratchetts, were foreign.  Unlike many of my fellow fans, I had the command of English that allowed me, eventually, to read free of the mediation of Israeli translators and publishers.  So from a very early age I learned to gravitate to the English section of the bookstore, and when my literary horizons broadened beyond genre, that’s where I looked for reading material to scratch my new itches (and then online bookselling happened and I all but abandoned the Israeli bookstore).  These days my tastes are varied enough that if I had the proper introduction I could probably read quite happily in Hebrew, but the reason I stepped away from it in the first place was that no one was writing genre in it.  That’s changed somewhat in the last 15 years (right around the time that I was discovering English-language fantasy and science fiction), but Israeli genre works are still thin on the ground.

The question, of course, is why, and it’s one that Hagar Yanai and Danielle Gurevitch have tried to address in their essay collection With Both Feet in the Clouds, from the Israeli genre publisher Graff.  As Yanai puts it in her introduction, how is it possible that in a country that garnered the inspiration for its very existence from a piece of utopian science fiction, the fantastic has been all but exiled from the cultural scene?  This is a question I’d been thinking of in slightly different terms since the Jewish fantasy conversation exploded all over the internet this winter, spurred on by Michael Weingrad’s essay “Why There is No Jewish Narnia” (in which Yanai, who has written two volumes of a YA fantasy trilogy, is one of two authors discussed).  My interest was in the Israeli aspect of the question, and when I became involved with content planning for this year’s ICon convention it was the first topic that came to mind.  Which is when I was made aware of Yanai and Gurevitch’s book, which Rani Graff was kind enough to send me a copy of.


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