Yoram Kaniuk was born in Tel Aviv in 1930 and took part in Israel's War of Independence in 1948. His books have been translated into 20 languages and have earned him many honours including the Bialik Prize, the Prix de Droits de l'Homme, and the Israeli President's Prize. His novel Adam Resurrected was translated from the Hebrew into English by Seymore Simckes. It was first published in English in Great Britain in 2008 by Atlantic Books. Poet-in-Residence received a copy for Christmas, for which he is very grateful. Here is a review.
Most of the novel's action takes place in Mrs. Seizling's Institute for Rehabilitation and Therapy on a hill in the desert in Arad, Israel. The benefactor Mrs. Seizling is dead but not buried. Her body is in limbo, kept frozen in Cleveland, Ohio, and it is awaiting transportation to Arad. It was her money which built the so-called Institute for Rehabilitation and Therapy, which is in reality a mad house of Cuckoo's Nest dimensions. The mad house, or better called the lunatic asylum, appears to be a metaphor for Israel.
The book's hero Adam Stein is a Holocaust survivor. He is a circus clown who survived the Holocaust by pretending to be a dog. German concentration camp commander Klein, now back in civilian life as Weiss, took a liking to Stein the dog and kept him as a pet; fed him from a dog bowl alongside a real dog, fed him scraps under the table and allowed him to be petted affectionately by his long-suffering wife. This benevolence enabled Stein to come through the 1,000 year Reich almost without a scratch. Unfortunately his mind was damaged beyond repair, or almost so.
The book's foreword is the book's message and is echoed for example in the mouth of another candidate for the loony bin, in fact the twin whose idea it is to build the place, a twin sister known logically as one of the Schwester twins. "We are a nation," said the Schwester twin, "a nation that betrayed its God. And we paid the highest price possible - we became smoke and ashes [...] the Rabinowitzes, the Spiegel family, the English teacher Mrs. Spring, all of us."
And the foreword is this, from Josephus, The Jewish War: Elazar the son of Ya-ir said: God must have made up His mind irrevocably against the Jewish People, His former loved ones, for if He had continued to show us a friendly face or if He were angry for just a short while, He would not have been absent, so totally absent, during the Great Destruction.
When the Schwester twin spots Mrs. Seizling having a cup of tea she homes in on her with her idea. "It is all a matter of faith."
"Faith?" Mrs. Seizling tried to understand, it being crucial that she comprehend. [...]
"It all depends on what you're thinking," continued the woman with the small mustache, while sipping her hot tea. "Take me for example. I, madam, am thinking about God."
"Day and night, He is in my mind," And once she began talking, the Schwester sister didn't stop.
Mrs. Seizling not only finances the building of the Institute which costs 12,000,000 liras; a 6,000,000 liras bribe to a government official and the other 6,000,000 to pay for the building of the luxury complex, but she travels the world in search of top quality staff. In Paris she finds Pierre Lotti the chef working at the Cluny Restaurant. His pioneer instinct finds him soon on his way to Israel's premier 5-star nut house. He cooks dishes that Israel hasn't ever tasted before. The word spreads to Ashdod, Ashkalon, Gedera, Rehovot, Tel Aviv and Haifa. People wait on pins for week-end invitations to the Sanitarium as they call it.
The attraction for Adam Stein, who hides whisky bottles behind all the Sanitarium's radiators, is not the cuisine prepared by Pierre Lotti but the insatiable sexual appetite of nurse Jenny. It's her discipline he loves. Her starched uniform. During sex he wants to shout Heil Hitler! They do it quickly in the storeroom when time is is pressing. Othertimes, when Jenny is not too busy, they do it in Adam's private room, and oftentimes in front of his invisible dog.
Other crazy characters pop in and out of Adam's room. Wolfowitz the Circumciser, Wolfowitz to whom the dog is nothing but the aide and ally of Satan can actually see Adam Stein's invisible dog. Wolfowitz roars at the dog. "Monster! Ashmodai! Scat, scat, scat!" he says. "If you're going to give him a name I think you should give him a dog's name," says Wolfowitz. He swallows the word him, afraid to utter it clearly..."
Adam Stein has not only a dog but also an invisible child who writes on an Olivetti typewriter. The child types messages to God. The dog smiles. Adam escapes from the whole bizarre scene, runs into the desert, into a sandstorm and raging rains pouring-jetting-gushing down from God. They find him and bring him back. So what does the child now type? Everibuddy runz away.
Susan Sontag ranks Kaniuk with Garcia Marquez and Peter Handke as one of the three best novelists she has discovered in translation. Le Monde say Kaniuk is one of the great writers of our time. Emerson says: A man is a god in ruins.
Now a major film, starring Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe, is the message on the cover above the desperate heaven-seeking face of Adam Stein. In the Sanitarium Dr. Gross sits behind his desk, behind the metaphor that is Israel; jumbo-sized Dr. Gross, who moves like an awkward goon, sits there behind his huge desk and smiles.