Clever collaboration highlights Israeli experience
A review of The Ilanot Review, Fall 2019, The Collaborative Issue: Translations of Granta Hebrew, by Katharine Tibbitts
For two journals that have only been established in the last decade, Ilanot Review and Granta Hebrew pack a century’s worth of grief and wisdom into their awe-inspiring collaborative issue for Fall 2019. This collaboration, published under the title The Ilanot Review: The Collaborative Issue, represents a break from routine for both journals, as The Ilanot Review is known for its compelling thematic issues and Granta Hebrew for its Hebrew and Arabic extension of the illustrious London-based Granta—the Magazine of New Writing. The editors have compiled a brilliant whirlwind of poetry, prose, and memoir that pulls pieces from the earliest archives of Granta Hebrew, resulting in an issue that is outstanding for its ability to express facets of the Israeli experience. Seek out this magazine wherever you can find it; come for the aching prose pieces about individual culture clashes and identity crises, and stay for the poetry cataloguing the pain and beauty of Israeli history. This magazine is a beautiful example of the wonder that can happen when two modern journals join forces, and I’m here for every word of it.
The innovative issue features translations into English from the earliest days of Granta Hebrew, a magazine that sprang up from a small Israeli bookstore and prides itself on being locally-run despite its London-based sponsor, Granta. Granta Hebrew describes itself as publishing work “addressing contemporary socio-political issues” and it does that from the very first piece in this issue, which is also one of the best. Titled ‘Mona Lisa,’ this lengthy prose piece describes the struggles of a girl growing up in modern-day Israel, whose frustration at restrictive cultural norms vies with her love for her naively Hebrew mother in a way that challenges her burgeoning self-identity. The individualistic context of ‘Mona Lisa’ is tempered by the universal chaos of the following piece, a short poem titled ‘Shai Agnon’ that uses a reference to a famed Hebrew author to illustrate the pains Israel has had to suffer throughout history and in modernity. This issue mainly features long autobiographical prose pieces followed by short emotive poems extolling universal Hebrew themes, and it is this juxtaposition that makes this issue as clever and memorable as it is.
For all its brilliance, be prepared for some tangents in reading these pieces. Some tend to ramble on without a satisfying conclusion, like the prose piece ‘In Heart and In Arms’ which follows a shiftless teenager who steals army equipment to pass the time, or the poem ‘One, Two, Three’ which tediously discusses the role humans have on Earth using long-winded nature metaphors and arbitrary quotes. Most incongruous of all in the journal is the prose piece ‘Corn’ which, bizarrely, describes the sensory experience of eating corn. I struggle to see how these pieces add to the theme of the journal, or do much more than provide some dissonance to the concepts of growth and history in an Israeli context. Perhaps they are included for that purpose, to complicate the coming-of-age theme; but personally I dislike the diversions. They are wordy tangents in a journal that is already full of variety within a solid theme, and they don’t add much besides confusion.
If you can look past the rare unwieldy works in this issue, it is one of the most satisfying collaborations I have seen in recent years, thanks to the combination of individual expression and universal themes expressed in its multimedia pages. This magazine is a treat for Israelis or for anyone who has ever had to wrestle with entering the wider world from a formative culture. My commendations to Janice Weizman, who spearheaded this collaboration as part of her final run at Ilanot Review; thank you for releasing this issue out into the world, it is a gift for all who encounter it.You can find The Review Review's interview with Janice Weizman here.
Katharine Tibbitts is a senior at Gonzaga University pursuing degrees in English and Religious Studies. An amateur poet and author, she frequently writes about theology, fascinated by the effect religions have on the world as social institutions and the way people's personal conceptions of God shape the formation of global morals and communities. In her spare time she loves to read classic mystery novels, get coffee with friends, and walk her cat, Popsicle. She lives in Spokane, Washington.