In 1967 the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish published his poem “A Soldier Dreaming of White Lilies,” only to be accused of “collaboration with the Zionist enemy” for his sympathetic depiction of an Israeli soldier’s remorse of conscience. Forty years later that soldier has identified himself as the historian Shlomo Sand. He has translated his remorse into a book that has become a bestseller in Israel and France, where the award of the Prix Aujourd’hui has made the author something of a TV star.
Indeed, few recent books have aroused more interest and been more frequently reviewed in the US and Europe prior to the appearance of an English version. Translator Yael Lotan has chosen to follow the example of her French predecessors by telescoping the interrogative Hebrew title (When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?), which here becomes The Invention of the Jewish People, thus misleadingly and (deliberately?) provocatively implying that such inventiveness was unique to the Jews. However, Sand clarifies that worldwide in the 19th century “[t]he national project was … a fully conscious one … It was a simultaneous process of imagination, invention, and actual self-creation” (45).
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Mahmoud Darwish’s Mural, a collection of the poet’s remarkable late poems beautifully illustrated by John Berger, is out now.