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No Room of Their Own: Gender and Nation in Israeli Women’s Fiction

No Room of Their Own: Gender and Nation in Israeli Women’s Fiction by Yael S. Feldman, Golumbia University Press, $17.50

This study examines how nationalism, the threat of war, and male dominance have limited women’s voices not only in Israeli society, but in literature as well. Beginning in the 1980s, women entered mainstream Israeli fiction in increasing numbers, but conscious that their work would be poorly received under the category of “women’s literature” or other marginalized genres,these writers “were obliged to enter the mainstream ‘indisguise.'” In general, these authors refrain from direct critique of contemporary Israeli society, some even denying an affiliation with feminism. But their feminist views do come across to the attentive reader.

Netiva Ben Yehuda and Shulamit Hareven both composed trilogies toppling such myths as the strength and masculinity of the “Sabra” and Zionism’s alleged equality between the sexes: Ben Yehuda from her experience as a highly-ranked woman in the Palmach, and Hareven in a biblical trilogy. Ben Yehuda’s subversive writing style—choosing the Palmach’s jargon over a literary Hebrew—reduces the mythic proportions of this early 1940s underground unit, criticizing their failure to make real the ideology of equality between the sexes.

In Feldman’s chapter “Israeli Androgyny under Siege,” we confront how sexual difference becomes amplified under the duress of war. By contrast, Feldman traces the development of Virginia Woolf’s political consciousness, showing how Woolf, unlike the writers in Israel, did not abandon her feminist agenda in wartime.