Midnight Convoy and Other Stories

S. Yizhar

translated from the Hebrew
The Toby Press 2007
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010 http://dannyreviews.com/
A fifty page introduction by Dan Miron begins with Yizhar's position in the history of Hebrew literature, attempting to counter some of the myths involved in his status as a "founding father".
"there is no reason to regard Yizhar as even belonging to the literary generation he supposedly founded. The fact that the War of Independence occupies so central a place in his writings does not in itself render him the contemporary of the young soldiers he portrays."

Miron goes on to analyse some of the recurring themes of Yizhar's work, and then looks briefly at the stories, focusing on "Midnight Convoy".

The stories themselves are arranged chronologically. This helps show the development of Yizhar's style, but has the drawback of putting the 1938 story "Ephraim Returns to Alfalfa", probably the least accessible, at the beginning. An inner monologue, like most of the stories, this follows Ephraim's thoughts during a single evening in which he requests a change from working on the alfalfa crop. There is some interest in the kibbutz decision-making process and the broader setting, but these are almost incidental. The focus remains on Ephraim's meandering thoughts: his memories of work in the fields, his inchoate hopes for a different future, his unsophisticated attraction to one of the women.

Published in 1949, "The Prisoner" describes an incident in the 1948 war, and is similar to the novella Khirbet Khizeh in highlighting moral concerns with the abuse of power over Arab civilians. Here a Palestinian shepherd is randomly seized and interrogated and, though clearly innocent, sent off to prison. His escort engages in an internal debate over whether to let him go.

The 120 page novella "Midnight Convoy" (1959) describes an operation in the 1948 war which avoids such concerns since the enemy remains distant. Tzvialeh is part of a small detachment scouting out and marking a route for a night convoy that will take supplies through enemy lines to besieged settlements in the Negev. The tension realistically ebbs and flows, and events are loosely linked and not integrated into a single movement to a conclusion. The other characters are a little more prominent here than in the other stories: there's the leader Rubinstein, the outspoken Ovadiah, and the female wireless operator Dali, with whom Tzvialeh becomes a little obsessed. The landscape itself looms much larger, however, and the route, traversed several times in different conditions, is perhaps more memorable than any of the people.

In "Habakuk" (1963) a young boy comes from the country to the city and makes friends with an amateur violin-player who encourages his fascination with music. "The Runaway" starts with a concrete rural scene, of a pair of horses breaking soil for planting, but when one of them escapes and runs away, that inspires the narrator to an extended, abstract encomium on open space and freedom. And the narrators in "Whoso Breaketh a Hedge a Snake Shall Bite Him" and "Harlamov" (1996) look back at childhood incidents involving teachers who profoundly influenced them.

The collection as a whole is worthwhile, but the standout story in it is indeed "Midnight Convoy". And that is as close as most of us can get to Yizhar's masterpiece Days of Ziklag, which has never been translated into English.

February 2010

External links:
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Related reviews:
- S. Yizhar - Khirbet Khizeh
- more Hebrew + Yiddish literature
- more short fiction
%T Midnight Convoy and Other Stories
%A Yizhar, S.
%M Hebrew
%I The Toby Press
%D 2007
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781592641833
%P 283pp