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Yehuda Amichai
The Making of Israel’s National Poet
Nili Scharf Gold

Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry
Schusterman Series in Israel Studies
2008 • 468 pp. 15 bw photo; 1 illus; 1 map. 6 x 9"
Jewish Studies / Biography / Literary Criticism

$40.00 Hardcover, 978-1-58465-733-0

$24.99 Ebook, 978-1-58465-812-2

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“The complexities of the Hebrew revival are at the center of Nili Scharf Gold's exhaustively researched, passionately argued and highly persuasive study of Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), Israel's ‘beloved unofficial national poet.’”—Washington Post

An astonishing revision of the prevailing critical analysis of the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, based on newly discovered materials

Yehuda Amichai is one of the twentieth century’s (and Israel’s) leading poets. In this remarkable book, Gold offers a profound reinterpretation of Amichai’s early works, using two sets of untapped materials: notes and notebooks written by Amichai in Hebrew and German that are now preserved in the Beinecke archive at Yale, and a cache of ninety-eight as-yet unpublished letters written by Amichai in 1947 and 1948 to a woman identified in the book as Ruth Z., which were recently discovered by Gold.

Gold found irrefutable evidence in the Yale archive and the letters to Ruth Z. that allows her to make two startling claims. First, she shows that in order to remake himself as an Israeli soldier-citizen and poet, Amichai suppressed (“camouflaged”) his German past and German mother tongue both in reference to his biography and in his poetry. Yet, as her close readings of his published oeuvre as well as his unpublished German and Hebrew notes at the Beinecke show, these texts harbor the linguistic residue of his European origins. Gold, who knows both Hebrew and German, establishes that the poet’s German past infused every area of his work, despite his attempts to conceal it in the process of adopting a completely Israeli identity.

Gold’s second claim is that Amichai somewhat disguised the story of his own development as a poet. According to Amichai’s own accounts, Israel’s war of independence was the impetus for his creative writing. Long accepted as fact, Gold proves that this poetic biography is far from complete. By analyzing Amichai’s letters and reconstructing his relationship with Ruth Z., Gold reveals what was really happening in the poet’s life and verse at the end of the 1940s. These letters demonstrate that the chronological order in which Amichai’s works were published does not reflect the order in which they were written; rather, it was a product of the poet’s literary and national motivations.

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Reviews / Endorsements

“ . . . groundbreaking . . . Yehuda Amichai caps years of obviously painstaking and devoted research. Gold’s skillful efforts have yielded an achievement of serious scholarship and academic significance, packaged in a format accessible to the general public.”—Jerusalem Post

“[Gold] has written a very exciting book that enriches and deepens the poet's personality, showing it to be much more complex than previously portrayed. This is a persuasive, unique book that is strongly supported by sources and poetry, a book that presents a new poet - more complex and fascinating than ever, and a faithful representative of his people. Not only does the new side of Amichai revealed in Gold's book enrich his marvelous poetry, it depicts Israel as a multicultural society, gathered from all ends of the earth, bearing numerous and varied traditions. And his Israeliness in combination with his distinct Jewishness gives rise to a rare complexity that is perfectly blended in this representative of all the generations.”—Haaretz

“Nili Scharf Gold is an impressive scholar, and her reading of Amichai’s poems is enormously valuable . . . There is genuinely new and useful material is this book. . . . He was always Israel’s best ambassador whether on a public stage or in a social gathering, and that is the memory that will endure. But Nili Scharf Gold has given us fresh look and an important book. Anyone interested in Amichai will be grateful for it.”—Jewish Quarterly

“The integrity of Nili Gold’s research shines out of every page of this book. She has spent many years trying to find new sources that would lead to a better understanding of the life and work of Yehuda Amichai—and she has found them, caches of marvelously revealing letters and manuscripts. But Yehuda Amichai is more than a monument of scrupulous research, it is filled with brilliant insights into Amichai’s interior world and into his poetry. In this book, Nili Gold sheds new light not only on the life and work of this great poet but on the very nature of poetry itself.”—Robert A. Caro, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson

“This brilliant and inspiring study of the formative years of the great Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, deepens and broadens the genre of literary monograph. Nili Gold offers an impassioned and insightful reading that seamlessly merges the story of one individual—a budding poet—with the story of a people during a decisive chapter in their national history. This book is a must for scholars of literature, for everyday lovers of poetry, and for anyone with an abiding interest in the State of Israel.”—Yigal Schwartz, Professor of Hebrew Literature and director of Heksherim: The Research Institute for Jewish and Israeli Literature and Culture, Ben Gurion University, Israel

“Gold has accomplished one of the most innovative studies in many years of the poetry of Amichai by uncovering the European roots of this central, widely read and much translated Israeli author. In doing so, she opens the way for other similar studies of the European background of Israeli writing. Her book will be indispensable for all future studies of Amichai's poetry.”—Arnold Band, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California at Los Angeles

“With the help of a treasure trove of retrieved love letters, Nili Scharf Gold has changed the landscape for understanding the poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Gold demonstrates in exquisite detail the extent to which "Israel's National Poet" camouflaged the German childhood that continued to haunt him.”—Stephen Fredman, author of A Menorah for Athena: Charles Reznikoff and the Jewish Dilemmas of Objectivist Poetry

Author Photo

NILI SCHARF GOLD is Associate Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tue, 15 May 2018 13:02:24 -0500