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Imagining Israelís non-existence doesnít mean Chabon wants it
November 9th, 2007
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon detonated a critics’ battle over his attitudes toward Israel in one of his recent novels, he told The Chronicle.
This novel, “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” is set in a counter-history world in which the attempt to create the state of Israel in 1948 failed; and as a result, the U.S. created a temporary, semi-independent colony of surviving Jews in the area around Sitka, Alaska.
“I certainly was trying to imagine what the world would be like, what life as a Jew would be like, if there were no Israel,” Chabon said in a telephone interview from his California home. “That’s all I was trying. And I am content to let the readers draw their own conclusions.”
But some critics in the U.S. and Israel pounced on this aspect of the book. Some asserted that even imagining Israel’s non-existence is anti-Zionistic, and that “I must be suggesting I would prefer a world without Israel,” he said.
On the other hand, an Israeli reviewer said the book actually was “a cautionary warning about how miserable Jewish existence in the world would be without Israel,” Chabon said.
And this controversy “is all fine with me,” Chabon said. “I am not in charge of interpretations, nor would I want to be.”
In fact, “I strongly believe in Israel’s right to exist; but even more, I fear that it is necessary,” Chabon said. “I have no doubt whatsoever that there is only one regime, one government in the world that can be trusted not to turn its back on Jews.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, “the unreasoning, knee-jerk support for any country, including Israel — the ‘my country right or wrong’ attitude — is utterly alien to me.”
‘Bit of a ham’
Chabon is the headliner at the Jewish Book & Culture Fair, being presented Nov. 6-29 by the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in partnership with the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops and in association with the Jewish Book Council.
He will be speaking on Thursday, Nov. 15, 7 p.m.
Chabon has made many such appearances before Jewish and general audiences over the years, and while he acknowledged that “the part that is hard is the travel part, being away from home,” he said that he enjoys such events.
“I have a little bit of a ham in me,” he said. “Until I started doing this, it was many years since it had a chance to come out.”
“I was in drama and musicals when I was in high school,” he continued. But his theatrical traits “went into remission for many years,” he said. Appearances at events such as the Book & Culture Fair give him a chance to “get up on stage.”
But he does not have time to do it often. Chabon confirmed the report from other sources that he maintains an intensely disciplined writing schedule, working from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.
Moreover, he has tended to work on several projects at once. This year he not only published “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” but also created and published “Gentlemen of the Road.”
The latter is an adventure novel set in the Middle Ages and featuring two Jewish swashbucklers; and it appeared as a serial in The New York Times Magazine during the past year.
“It’s not bad to take a break from a long project every now and then,” he said. “But its been bad for me a few times to have too much going on at once.”
Chabon is married to novelist Ayelet Waldman (see Chronicle of Feb. 9, 2007). They have four children.
Admission to Chabon’s talk is $20 general, $10 for students. For more information, call 414-967-8210 or 414-967-8217.