il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

Ticketless – Reading Yehoshua

Alberto Cavaglion*

I have always enjoyed studying the reception of a writer in a country (or period) different from their own. Reading Yehoshua was the title of an anthology edited by Emanuela Trevisan Semi, which however does not go further than 2006. In this case, I took part in this reception, since one of the first reviews appeared in Italy was mine, Il poeta continua a tacere (lit. “The poet remains silent”), a collection of short stories edited by Giunti in 1987. My review was also the first one that the periodical L’indice dei libri del mese, dedicated to Israeli literature, when Israel was a frequently discussed topic, while its writers were still unknown, and this makes me very proud.
After some hesitation, this week I read the last novel, The only daughter. It took me some time to make up my mind, because the latest works from Yehoshua had dissuaded me from reading. I was fascinated, and I am still, by the great masterpieces of his debut: The love, A late divorce, Mr. Mani, A journey to the end of the millennium. After the release of each of these books I just could not stop reading, I would even forget to eat, to sleep, or to do the household chores, even the urgent ones. I read aloof reviews of the last novel, some inaccuracies have been, pointlessly in my opinion, criticized, even on this website. However, when the initial infatuation fades, soon the disappointment appears, always.
Yehoshua’s magnetic force can be recognized from the very first pages also in this better called “long story” rather than “novel”, but that is not what I want to talk about. Italy has triumphantly welcomed, even adopted, this author. In France, England or Germany, Yehoshua did not get the same reception. Yehoshua has never hidden his passion for Pirandello and De Amicis, and as a matter of facts The only daughter proves it.
In the latter novel, the writer pays, in his own way, his debt of gratitude to a culture that has been friendly to him for about twenty years. In fact, in addition to the bond with De Amicis’ book Cuore, Yehoshua here proves to know very well the fluidity of a Catholic society which, for better or for worse, is marked by compromises, hypocrisies, but also by nobility and splendours. Nothing to say about this except congratulations.
The question I asked myself and I ask to you readers concerns our little world. What idea did Yehoshua get of the Italian Jews? Who did he meet or spend time with? Who tried to explain to him who we are, where we come from and what we want or would like to be, and what role we think we have in today’s society? My impression is that Yehoshua harshly reveals the difficulties of the Jewish world that we know and do not love at all.
This is a real existing world, which the writer meticulously describes, but fortunately it is not the only one: a Lombard-Venetian world, wealthy, made up of comforts, luxurious holidays, elegant cars, chauffeurs, frivolousness, whims, inside which the young Israeli rabbi called to teach Hebrew to the protagonist fails to establish himself as a possible alternative, as well as the teachers of the public school Rachele attended do (especially one pale heir to the School, of De Amicis, recently retired). In its ruthlessness, the picture is realistic, even if incomplete.
For those involved with outlining the role that Jews would like to have in today’s Italy, the experience of reading this book is disappointing: it shows us, in case it should be reminded to everyone, that another existing Judaism – less rich, more human, bearer of higher moral values – always struggles to make its voice heard, unable to attract Yehoshua during his long and frequent stays in Italy.


Translation by Alice Pugliese, revised by Gianluca Pace, students at the Secondary School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste and interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities