Avraham B. Yehoshua, known commonly as A.B. Yehoshua, was an Israeli novelist and playwright.
Yehoshua was born in Jerusalem on December 19, 1936, to a fifth-generation Jerusalem family of Sephardi origin. He attended Gymnasia Rehavia municipal high school in Jerusalem. Afterward, he served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army from 1954 to 1957, seeing action in the 1956 Suez War.
In 1959, he met his future wife, Rivka Karni.
From the end of his military service, Yehoshua began to publish fiction. His first book of stories, Mot Hazaken (The Death of the Old Man), was published in 1962.
Yehoshua studied Hebrew literature and philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He taught at high school and university levels and taught in Paris while living there from 1963 to 1967. From 1972, he taught Comparative and Hebrew Literature at the University of Haifa. In 1975, he was a writer-in-residence at St Cross College, Oxford. He also was a visiting professor at Harvard (1977), the University of Chicago (1988, 1997, 2000), and Princeton (1992).
Best known as a novelist and playwright, A.B. Yehoshua was among the most widely recognized Israeli authors internationally. He became a prominent figure in the “new wave” generation of Israeli writers, who differed from their predecessors in focusing more closely on individual and interpersonal concerns rather than group psychology. He was often associated as a member of the “literary trio” with Amos Oz and David Grossman.
The New York Times described Yehoshua as “a kind of Israeli Faulkner.” His writing established him as one of Israel’s foremost authors, a novelist with a particular gift for capturing the mood of contemporary Israel. In a style that has been called “anti-stream of consciousness,” he explored the animal instincts which threaten the facade of civilized people and examined their isolation from each other, their community, and themselves.
The Financial Times said of Five Seasons, “the novel succeeds in charting the ways in which grief and passions cannot be cheated.” The Village Voice wrote, “Yehoshua’s stories find their way right into the unconscious ... Nobel prizes have been given for less.” In the words of critic Alan Lelchuk, A.B. Yehoshua is “trying to break through the deeper circles of feeling, to meanings beyond the cerebral or stale.”
Yehoshua wrote eleven novels, three books of short stories, four plays, and four collections of essays. His works have been translated and published in 28 countries; many have been adapted for film, television, theatre, and opera.
Yehoshua was a peace activist. He was an active member of the Labor Party, then Meretz, but his views changed over time. He began to advocate a unitary state rather than a two-state solution when he concluded the latter was no longer feasible. He remained an opponent of settlements and Israel’s rule over the West Bank. He also took controversial positions such as calling on the government to stop referring to Hamas as a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, at the end of Operation Cast Lead, Yehoshua said:
The American Jewish community criticized Yehoshua for stating that a “full Jewish life could only be had in the Jewish state.” He claimed that Jews elsewhere were only “playing with Judaism.” He told the Jerusalem Post, ”Diaspora Judaism is masturbation.” In Israel, he said, it is “the real thing.”
He later denied he had engaged in a “negation of the Diaspora,” acknowledging that Jews had lived in exile for thousands of years. “I have no doubt,” he said, “that in the future, when outposts are established in outer space, there will be Jews among them who will pray ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ while electronically orienting their space synagogue toward Jerusalem on the globe of the earth.”
Yehoshua died at the age of 85 on June 14, 2022. His wife, Rivka, died in 2016. He is survived by his three children, Sivan, Gideon, and Nahum.
“With all his last remaining strength, he was still determined to speak out on what was so important to him,” Zehava Galon said. “It was truly moving.”
“His works, which drew inspiration from our nation’s treasures, reflected us in an accurate, sharp, loving, and sometimes painful mirror image,” said President Isaac Herzog. “He aroused in us a mosaic of deep emotions.”
Recognition and Awards
- In 1972, A.B. Yehoshua received the Prime Minister’s Prize for Hebrew Literary Works.
- In 1983, he was awarded the Brenner Prize.
- In 1986, he received the Alterman Prize.
- In 1989, he was a co-recipient (jointly with Avner Treinin) of the Bialik Prize for literature.
- In 1995, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature.
- He has also won the National Jewish Book Award for Five Seasons in 1990, the Koret Jewish Book Award in the U.S., and the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize in the United Kingdom.
- Yehoshua was shortlisted in 2005 for the first Man Booker International Prize.
- In 2005, he was voted the 77th-greatest Israeli in a poll by the Israeli news website Yediot Ahronoth.
- In 2006, A Woman in Jerusalem was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
- In Italy, he received the Grinzane Cavour Award, the Flaiano Superprize, the Giovanni Boccaccio Prize, and the Viareggio Prize for Lifetime Achievement. In 2003, his novel The Liberated Bride won both the Premio Napoli and the Lampedusa Literary Prize. Friendly Fire won the Premio Roma in 2008.
- He received honorary doctorates from Hebrew Union College (1990), Tel Aviv University (1998), Torino University (1999), Bar-Ilan University (2000), and Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (2012).
- In November 2012, Yehoshua received the Prix Médicis étranger for his novel חסד ספרדי (English: The Retrospective; French: Rétrospective).
- In 2017, he received the Dan David Prize Award.
- The Lover [Ha-Me’ahev, 1977]. Garden City N.Y., Doubleday, 1978 (translated by Philip Simpson). Dutton, 1985. Harvest/HBJ, 1993. ISBN 978-0-15-653912-8. London, Halban Publishers, 2004, 2007. ISBN 1870015-91-6.
- A Late Divorce [Gerushim Meuharim, 1982]. London, Harvill Press, 1984. Garden City N.Y., Doubleday, 1984. London, Sphere/Abacus Books, 1985. New York, Dutton, 1985. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1993. ISBN 978-0-15-649447-2. London, Halban Publishers 2005. ISBN 187-0-01-5959.
- Five Seasons [Molcho, 1987]. New York, Doubleday, 1989. New York, Dutton Obelisk, 1989. London, Collins, 1989. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1990. London, Fontana, 1990, ISBN 978-1-870015-94-3. London, Halban Publishers, 2005, ISBN 1870015-94-0.
- Mr. Mani [Mar Mani, 1989]. New York, Doubleday, 1992. London, Collins, 1992. London, Peter Halban, 1993, 2002 ISBN 1-870015-77-0. San Diego, Harvest/HBJ, 1993. London, Phoenix/Orion Books, 1994. ISBN 978-1-85799-185-7.
- Open Heart [Ha-Shiv`a Me-Hodu (The Return from India), 1994]. Garden City N.Y., Doubleday, 1995. London, Halban Publishers, 1996, ISBN 978-1-87-001563-9. San Diego, Harvest/HBJ, 1997. ISBN 978-0-15-600484-8.
- A Journey to the End of the Millennium [Masah El Tom Ha-Elef, 1997]. New York, Doubleday & Co., 1999. London, Peter Halban, 1999. ISBN 1-870015-71-1.
- The Liberated Bride [Ha-Kala Ha-Meshachreret, 2001]. London, Peter Halban, 2003, 2004, 2006. ISBN 1-870015-86-X.
- A Woman in Jerusalem [Shlihuto Shel Ha-memouneh Al Mashabei Enosh (The Human Resources Supervisor’s Mission), 2004]. London, Halban Publishers, 2006, 2011. ISBN 978-1-905559-24-4. New York, Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 978-0-15-101226-8.
- Friendly Fire: A Duet [Esh Yedidutit, 2007] London, Halban Publishers, 2008, ISBN 978-1-905559-19-0. New York, Harcourt 2008, ISBN 978-0-15-101419-4.
- The Retrospective [חסד ספרדי]. New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. ISBN 978-0-547496-96-2. London, Halban Publishers, 2013. ISBN 978-1-905559-56-5.
- The Extra, 2014
- The Tunnel, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020 August 4 ISBN 978-1-328622-55-6. London, Halban Publishers The Tunnel, 2020 February 27 ISBN 978-1-912600-03-8.
- Early in the Summer of 1970 [Bi-Thilat Kayitz, 1970, 1972]. Garden City N.Y., Doubleday, 1977. London, Heinemann, 1980. New York, Berkley Publishing, 1981. London, Fontana Paperbacks, 1990. ISBN 978-0-385-02590-4
- Three Days and a Child [Shlosha Yamim Ve-Yeled, 1975]. Garden City N.Y., Doubleday, 1970. London, Peter Owen, 1971. ISBN 978-0-7206-0161-9
- The Continuing Silence of a Poet. London, Peter Halban, 1988, 1999, ISBN 1-870015-73-8. London, Fontana Paperbacks, 1990. London, New York, Penguin, 1991. Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-8156-0559-1
- Israel. London, Collins, 1988. New York, Harper & Row, 1988. Jerusalem, Steimatzky/Collins Harvill, 1988.
- Between Right and Right [Bein Zechut Le-Zechut, 1980]. Garden City N.Y., Doubleday, 1981. ISBN 978-0-385-17035-2
- The Terrible Power of a Minor Guilt [Kocha Ha-Nora Shel Ashma Ktana, 1998]. New York, Syracuse University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8156-0656-7
- “An Attempt to Identify the Root Cause of Antisemitism,” Azure, (Spring 2008).
- A Night in May [Layla Be-May, 1975]. Tel Aviv, Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, 1974.
- Possessions [Hafatzim, 1986]. Portsmouth, Heinemann, 1993.
- Journey to the End of the Millennium, the libretto for opera with music by Yosef Bardnaashvili. Premiered at Israeli Opera, May 2005.
- A Tale of Two Zionists. A play of 1934 meeting of Vladimir Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion 2012.
Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“A. B. Yehoshua,” Wikipedia.
“The A.B. Yehoshua Controversy,” American Jewish Committee, (2006), pp. 8-9.
Allison Kaplan Sommer, “Literary Giant A.B. Yehushoa Rocked Israeli Leftists Circles, and Leaves Behind a Unique Political Heritage,” Haaretz, (June 14, 2022).
Mitch Ginsburg, “A.B. Yehoshua, Israeli literary giant and ardent humanist, dies aged 85,” Times of Israel, (June 14, 2022).