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S. Yizhar

(1916 - 2006)

S. Yizhar, the pen name of Yizhar Smilansky, is part of the first generation of native Israeli writers. He was born in Rehovot to a family of writers, attended The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and taught briefly in schools. He fought in the War of Independence and, following the establishment of the State, served as a member of the Knesset from the Mapai party until 1967. His literary career has spanned nearly fifty years, and Yizhar was awarded the Israel prize in 1959 for his contribution to Israeli literature.

Yizhar's work is distinguished by certain notable characteristics. The first is his rich literary prose which, in its rhythmic and imagistic nature, frequently approaches poetry. Lengthy passages of description alternate with short passages of plot, and detailed depictions of the landscape are often internalized by the characters. The long interior monologue is almost a trademark of Yizhar's fiction, again standing in contrast to curt narrative sections. Indeed, Yizhar has been criticized as being overly self-conscious with his language, and sacrificing narrative and generic structure to an undue emphasis on prose.

Yizhar's writing is set primarily in the days before and immediately after the establishment of the State and considers the Zionist experience of settling the land. At the center of this experience, though, is the recurring conflict between the individual and the group. Character after character in Yizhar's work finds himself personally and morally questioning, if not at odds with, the society to which he belongs yet unable to act in accordance with his personal inclinations against those of the collective. There are soldiers, for example, who acknowledge the frequent amorality of their behavior, even if their larger goal may be just. His lengthy novel Yemei Tziklag (Tziklag Days) (1958) tells of a week-long attempt by soldiers during the War of Independence to take an enemy stronghold in the Negev, during which time personal anguish and individual desires contradict the army mentality imposed upon them. Invariably, Yizhar's protagonists are paralyzed to act as they feel they ought, and find themselves yielding to convention and expectation. In the clash between moral individualism and collective authority, it is always the latter that dominates.

In addition to novels, short stories and essays, Yizhar has written for young adults and has written works on the study of literature. Because of his lyrical prose and highly stylistic stories, his influence on other writers has perhaps been less than might be expected given the prolific nature of his career.

Sources: Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education