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Survival Instinct

In Assaf Gavron’s new novel, an apathetic Israeli and an introspective Palestinian are on a collision course

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(Illustration by Abigail Miller/Tablet Magazine. Based on Morning Commute in Tel Aviv by Noel Hidalgo; some rights reserved.)

Eitan “Croc” Einoch is a thirtysomething, not terribly introspective Tel Aviv resident who suddenly finds himself lauded as a national hero after narrowly surviving three terrorist attacks within several days. Fahmi Sabih is a pensive twentysomething Palestinian in the West Bank who belongs to the terrorist cell responsible for the attacks. The two characters alternate as narrators in Assaf Gavron’s new darkly comic novel, Almost Dead, his first book translated into English. Writing with humor and empathy, Gavron examines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of these ordinary lives. He spoke with Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about the Israeli response to Almost Dead, anxious commutes during the Second Intifada, and the pleasures and pains of translating Philip Roth, J. D. Salinger, and his own work. Gavron will be participating in the PEN World Voices Festival, and in book readings across the country, this month and next. 

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Mati says:

The best way to gain international attention for an Israeli writer is to write about the Israel-Palestinian conflict and to write about a sympathetic Palestinian character. If the Israeli character is unsympathetic, that is even better. Here we have Fahmi Sabih, “a pensive twentysomething Palestinian in the West Bank who belongs to the terrorist cell” and Eitan Einoch, a “not terribly introspective Tel Aviv resident.”

To add more fuel to this predictable fire, Eitan becomes “a national hero after narrowly surviving three terrorist attacks within several days.” Somehow, I sense that his heroism is going to be cast skeptically and the nationalist public and media that celebrate him will be characterized patronizingly.

A terrorist who is pensive is a rather startling notion, one that works in fiction, which is more responsible to imagination than reality. That he is pensive is somehow going to be regarded to his credit and the crucial ability to condemn a person who murders will be nullified.

who suddenly finds himself lauded as responsible for the attacks. The two characters alternate as narrators in Assaf Gavron’s new darkly comic novel, Almost Dead, his first book translated into English. Writing with humor and empathy, Gavron examines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of these ordinary lives

I’ve done three U.S. book tours and one in Berlin (REAL TIME/Clarion -ECHTZEIT/German – a novel about terrorism in Israel) and would like to clarify the point about readers’ likes & dislikes. Many Jewish audiences have trouble with a novel that offers no solution that is either anti-Palestinian or anti-right wing and German audiences have trouble with a novel that not only has an ambivalent ending but does not come down heavily enough on the Israeli characters. The bottom line is a strong desire on the part of readers for clear-cut characters and a clear-cut ending. Heroism here in Israel is adored and pensive Arabs are ignored.

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Survival Instinct

In Assaf Gavron’s new novel, an apathetic Israeli and an introspective Palestinian are on a collision course

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