Book Information

Self as Nation: Contemporary Hebrew Autobiography

Tamar Hess

216 pp. 6 x 9"

978-1-61168-880-1, Paperback
978-1-61168-879-5, Hardcover
978-1-61168-966-2, Ebook


Honorable Mention for Shapiro Prize 2016

Choice Reviews Online: "Recommended"

Self as Nation: Contemporary Hebrew Autobiography

Tamar Hess

Reveals the intimate ties between selfhood and nationality, life story and national narrative, through Hebrew autobiography.

This book contributes to the history of autobiography and contemporary autobiography theory by analyzing the strategies of fragmentation that many of the writers Hess studies have adopted as ways of dealing with the conflicts between the self and the nation, between who they feel they are and what they are expected to be. Hess contrasts the predominantly masculine tradition of Hebrew autobiography with writings by women, and offers a fresh understanding of the Israeli soul and the Hebrew literary canon.

“In this finely crafted, upbeat study of Hebrew autobiography, Tamar Hess probes intergenerational family dynamics to draw a complex and richly nuanced portrait of Israeli national identity experience.”—Paul John Eakin, author of Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative
“Self as Nation is a brilliant and original analysis of the surprising transformations of the classical genre of autobiography in Israel. Hess takes the reader through a penetrating reading of the texts  while providing a revolutionary perspective on the evolution of the Israeli ‘self.’ The book offers a unique insight – rare in its optimism – into how autobiography takes its place within the nation’s story.”—Nili Scharf Gold, author of Yehuda Amichai: The Making of Israel's National Poet
“Hess’s penetrating study of autobiography illuminates with extraordinary precision the debates about identity at the heart of Israeli culture today. The beautifully written pages of Self as Nation lay bare the inevitably imbricated relations between selfhood and nationality, memory and history, inheritance and community. Self as Nation marks a major contribution both to the field of autobiography studies and to the tradition of Hebrew literature.”—Nancy K. Miller, author of What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past

TAMAR HESS is Sidney and Betty Sarah Berg Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Language in the Department of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

This book was published by Brandeis University Press as part of the Schusterman Series in Israel Studies.


Hess, Tamar S.. Self as nation: contemporary Hebrew autobiography. Brandeis, 2016. 213p index ISBN 9781611688795, $85.00; ISBN 9781611688801 pbk, $40.00; ISBN 9781611689662 ebook, $34.99

Hess (Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) studies how selected works written specifically as autobiography fit into a textual tradition that creates and examines self-identity within family, society, gender, and nation. In the first three chapters she studies works by Yoram Kaniuk, Natan Zach, Haim Be’er, Shimon Ballas, and Aharon Appelfeld in depth, and in the last chapter, “Gendered Margins,” she treats female writers, among them Esther Raab, Netiva Ben-Yehuda, and Judith Kafri. Hovering over the study are poet H. N. Bialik, Anton Shammas, Rachel Yannait Ben-Zvi, and Amos Oz (who famously wrote “everything is autobiographical,” quoted in the present volume), as are Western theorists of autobiography. Hess shows that motifs recur—redefinition vis-à-vis parents, Zionism (pioneering versus present), native versus nation, Israel versus diaspora, and Jewish texts (even Hebrew translations of non-Jewish works)—and he concludes that Israeli autobiography is drawn to “collective symbols and cultural tropes” and supplies “fresh definitions of what it means to be Israeli." Hess argues that Israeli autobiographies create a national image that is ultimately pluralistic and positive. Making a compelling argument for the importance of literary autobiographies for understanding Israeli culture and self-image, this book will be useful for readers familiar or becoming familiar with this literature.

--S. Ward, University of Wyoming

Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.