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Apples from the Desert

Apples from the Desert
by Savyon Llebrecht
The Feminist Press, $20 

What could be better, when you wake early on a Sunday feeling far away from your roots, than to pick up Savyon Liebrecht’s Apples from the Desert? You are there with your Israeli sisters and your history, tasting and living it.

I first discovered Liebrecht six years ago in a dim periodical room at Berkeley. I found “Excision,” which tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who chops off her grandchild’s golden hair when the child’s possible infection with head lice triggers horrifying memories of the camps for the grandmother. Thanks to The Feminist Press, we now have Apples from the Desert [the title story of which appeared for the first time in English in LILITH], a collection that includes 12 short stories and an introduction by Grace Paley.

At 50, Liebrecht is gaining international recognition. Born in 1948 in Munich of Holocaust-survivor parents, she now delves into current emotional, sociological and political themes, including the tensions inherent in Israeli life. Occasionally the heft of those themes would be more satisfying in novel form.

Liebrecht’s protagonists often identify with the Other: Arabs, Sephardic Jews, the elderly, women, children. Many characters in the stories suffer from an inability to forge a unique, individual identity. With unblinking honesty she depicts the personal tragedies and the small acts of courage that grow from deep-rooted conflicts. In “The Road to Cedar City,” an uneasy bond develops between a Palestinian woman and a Jewish woman vacationing in America, and in “What Am I Speaking, Chinese? She Said to Him,” a story reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper, she cracks open a post-modern sexual rebellion on the part of a Holocaust survivors offspring. As Amalia Kahana-Carmon became one of the pioneers of Israeli women prose writers of past generations, her protegee, Savyon Liebrecht, is becoming an interpreter not only of present but also of future Israeli generations.