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Yoram Kaniuk

KANIUK, YORAM (1930– ), Israeli writer. Kaniuk, who was born in Tel Aviv, fought in the War of Independence, during which he was wounded, spent the 1950s as journalist and painter in New York, and in 1961 settled down in Tel Aviv. One of the country's most prolific writers, his oeuvre sets up a mirror to the changes within Israeli society while taking issue with the so-called Zionist narrative. Kaniuk's disillusioned, critical voice is reminiscent of that of Y.H. *Brenner, a writer whom he greatly admires and with whom he shares a thematic and expressive affinity.

His works, commingling autobiographical elements with collective concerns, revolve around three major themes: the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict and in particular the War of Independence, the Holocaust, and the attitude of the New Jew, the Israeli, to Diaspora tradition.

The protagonist of Kaniuk's first novel, Ha-Yored le-Ma'alah (which appeared in an English translation as The Acrophile in 1961, two years before it was published in Hebrew!) is an Israeli living abroad, as it were an uprooted Sabra, who is tormented by guilt feelings for having killed an Arab boy during the war, preferring life in total isolation rather than to return to his native country. A similar theme, clearly inspired by the personal experience of Kaniuk in the U.S., is treated in the novel Sus-Eẓ (1974; Rocking Horse, 1977). The moral dilemma, present in several works of other writers of his generation, underlies many of Kaniuk's novels, including Bitto (1987; His Daughter, 1988) and Aravi Tov (1984; Confessions of a Good Arab, 1987), the latter being a compelling and deliberately provocative Arab-Jewish family saga, which "is out to fracture the badly set bone that deforms the Middle East" (The Los Angeles Times). While his second novel, Himmo Melekh Yerushalayim (1965; Himmo King of Jerusalem, 1969), describes the dramatic relationship between a severely wounded Israeli soldier and the nurse who attends to his needs in an old monastery in Jerusalem during the War of Independence, the third novel, Adam Ben Kelev (1968; Adam Resurrected, 1969; 1971) marks a new thematic and stylistic direction in Kaniuk's prose. In this novel as well as in Ha-Yehudi ha-Aharon (1982; The Last Jew, 2005), Kaniuk confronts the ever-open scars of Holocaust survivors and their traumatized life. In expressionistic style, harsh, gruesome, and provocative, Kaniuk tells the pathetic-grotesque story of Adam Stein, once a well-known clown in Europe, who survived the death camp because he entertained victims on their way to the gas chamber. Stein arrives in Israel but suffers a nervous breakdown. A patient at a rehabilitation and therapy institute, he presides over a demented kingdom which includes distraught persons, like Jenny, who provides him with medical and sexual services, and a "dog," who slowly shows feeling and finally can even speak. The novel, which has been translated into fourteen languages, was also successfully staged and is undoubtedly one of the most original and powerful Hebrew novels about the Holocaust. The Last Jew, one of Kaniuk's most ambitious works, attempting to present a historic panorama of Jewish fate in the 20th century, is the tragic-grotesque story of Ebenezer Schneurson, who believes he is the "last Jew." Confronting the Holocaust and the incurable wounds of the survivors prompted Kaniuk also to look closer at the relations between Germans and Jews. In Post Mortem (1992), an impressive, albeit disturbing portrait of his parents, Kaniuk does not hide his ambivalent emotions toward Germany and its culture. It was the father, Moshe Kaniuk, for many years director of the Tel Aviv Museum, who imbued his son with a passion for the German language and its culture. Kaniuk recounts how he, a boy in Tel Aviv of the 1930s, wished to rid himself of the ubiquitous Sabra attributes and resemble the children of the German Templars. One of the most successful Israeli authors in Germany, Kaniuk visited that country many times and published in 2002 (first in German, two years later in Hebrew!) his impressions of a haunted and haunting country.

Other prose works by Kaniuk examine the Zionist Myth and its realization, as in Afar ve-Teshukah ("Soil and Desires," 1975) or Ha-Sippur al Dodah Shlomziyon ha-Gedolah (1976; Aunt Schlomzion the Great, 1978); tell of the passionate, obsessive love of a 60-year-old film producer for a much younger woman ("Another Love Story," 1996); relate an imaginary, humorous encounter with Queen Elizabeth (Ha-Malkah va-Ani; "The Queen and I," 2001); or recollect personal moments, both turbulent and inspiring, in New York of the 1950s (Ẓayyim al Neyar Zekhukhit, "I Did It My Way," 2003). In 2005 Kaniuk published Ha-Ne'ederet mi-Naḥal Zin, a sophisticated thriller in which he examines the corrosion of values in Israeli society. Kaniuk also wrote books for young readers, such as Wasserman (1988), and a biographical novel about the commander of the famous ship Exodus (1999). Kaniuk won the Prix de Droits de l'Homme in Paris (1997), and he received the Bialik Prize (1999). In 2000 he was awarded the prestigious Prix Mediterranée Etranger.

Kaniuk's books have been translated into twenty languages, and a list is available at the ITHL website at


A. Feinberg, "The Story of Great Aunt Schlomzion," in: Modern Hebrew Literature, 1:3–4 (1975), 73–75; A. Feinberg, "'Afar u-Teshukah," in: Moznayim, 42 (1976), 149–150; H. Barzel, "Derekh ha-Sippur shel Y. Kaniuk," in: Alei Siah, 7–8 (1980), 172–190; G. Moked, "Ha-Toda'ah ve-ha-Eimah shel Y. Kaniuk," in: Yedioth Aharonoth (June 19, 1981); J. Green, "Ambitions and Obsessions," in: Modern Hebrew Literature, 9:3–4 (1984); O. Bartana, "Anatomiyyah shel Melankholiyyah Yehudit," in: Akhshav 49 (1984), 303–308; H. Daniel, "Die israelische Tragödie, Bekenntnisse eines guten Araber," in: Allgemeine juedische Wochenzeitung (May 5, 1989); W. Hinck, "Adam Hundesohn," in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (February 10, 1990); G. Dachs, "Der letzte Jude," in: Die Zeit, 17 (April 19, 1991); R. Jütte, "Der letzte Jude," in: Allgemeine juedische Wochenzeitung, 47:29 (July 16, 1992); R. Ben-Shahar, "Al Leshon ha-Roman 'Bitto' shel Y. Kaniuk,"in: Lashon ve-Ivrit, 4 (1999), 36–45; H. Halperin, "Ha-Im Immo shel Yoram Kaniuk Yoda'at Levashel? Ha-Ḥomarim ha-Biografiyim bi-Yẓirot Kaniuk," in: Moznayim 69:5 (1995), 13–17; H. Zmiri, "Ha-Tekst ke-Sheder shel Idiologiyyah ve-Tikshoret," in: Moznayim: 71:4, 27–32; G. Kaynar, "The Holocaust Experience through Theatrical Profanation," in: C. Schumacher (ed.), Staging the Holocaust (1998), 53–69; J. Lushizki, "Kalat ha-Met," in: Mabbatim fiktiviyyim al Kolno'a Yisraeli (1998), 247–260; G. Shaked, "Reshut ha-Ze'akah," in: Akhshav, 65 (1998), 66–92; G. Shaked, Ha-Sipporet ha-Ivrit, 5 (1998), 183–205; L. Haber, "Fact and Fiction by Yoram Kaniuk," in: Midstream, 46:8 (2000), 33–35; G. Morahg, "Mekorot Musmakhim," in: Mehkarei Yerushalayim be-Sifrut Ivrit, 18 (2001), 341–357; D. Juette, "Yoram Kaniuks Der Letzte Berliner," in: Mitteilungsblatt, 178:12 (2002), 12; Y. Orian, "Yoman Mas'a be-Moledet ha-Naẓim," in: Maariv (May 28, 2004); M. Azaryahu, "Ha-Emet ve-ha-Elbon," in: Haaretz Sefarim (June 9, 2004); D. Juette, "Die Queen, ihr Liebhaber und ich," in: Stuttgarter Zeitung (September 3, 2004).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.