Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return
The razor-sharp edge of religious beliefs and national conflict, of shadowy projections and existential anxiety, that characterize Israel and its neighbors, gives rise to a particular blend of archetypal fate and personal destiny, of doubt and conviction, despair and commitment, of collective identity and personal choice.
However, I do believe that the essence of my wonderings reach beyond the shores of the eastern Mediterranean or Jewish tradition. I believe the tension between a sense of exile and return, belongingness and estrangement, are universal aspects, certainly in our post-modern world. While Israeli reality provides the external context, the story serves, as well, as a metaphor for the exile and return of the soul, which necessarily is a journey through shadowy valleys.
Requiem returns us to an eternal theme, a dialogue with Soul, and we know quite well what happens when one dialogues with Soul—we change, consciousness is enlarged, the impossible becomes possible and we no longer are compelled to blindly follow in the deathly path of our forefathers.
Requiem is a fictitious account of a scenario played out in the mind of many Israelis, pertaining to existential reflections and apocalyptic fears, but then, as well, the hope and commitment that arise from the abyss of trepidation. While set in Israel sometime in the present, it is a story that reaches into the timelessness of history, weaving discussions with Heine and Kafka into a tale of universal implications.
This YouTube presentation tells the story of Requiem, with brief quotes from the novella itself.
A review by Grady Harp
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: Grant them eternal rest, O Lord
The title of this meditative book, REQUIEM: A Tale of Exile and Return', seems inappropriate when the reader begins Erel Shalit's story: if these are the thought patterns that are seething through the mind of our narrator Professor Eliezer Shimeoni as he prepares a lecture on the fate of Israel and the fate of the Jews, why then open with a 'Christian' mass for the dead? But then we are reminded that this is yet another work by the author of Enemy, Cripple, & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero's Path, and his life's work is not only a Jungian Pyschoanalyst but he is also a man consumed with the great literature and the important writers of the world.
He begins this story simply enough as Professor Shimeoni reflects on the history of the Jews post WW II, the formation of the independent home state of Israel and then the gradual failure of that land to maintain. 'That very moment he understood why the passionate longing for home had anchored in the Jewish soul, and why the sense of the soul's exile wandered like a shadow behind every Jew.' He quotes the words of Chaim Potok 'To be a Jew in this century is to understand fully the possibility of the end of mankind, while at the same time believing with certain faith that we will survive.' Shimeoni has faith that the Jews will survive, given the history of the suffering of the Pogrom. 'His belief was that the Jews thrived at the edge of pathology - their individual pathology, but also their collective pathology as a people.'
Given his theme for investigation Shimeoni examines an imagined end of Israel and then pastes together his responses to that concept with post-modern thinking. 'He recalled the words of Ben-Gurion, that in Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles. "Was Israel not the miraculous realization and the triumph of the spirit of life, forever hovering over the primordial abyss?" he said in a loud and clear voice, adjusting the microphone. As the lights were turned on, he emerged from the shadow of catatonia, and began his lecture'. This is from the last paragraph of this novel.
But what Erel Shalit has accomplished in this very brief but intoxicating book is to provide a path for each of us to follow, wisely using the plight of the Jews during the last century as a matrix from which to judge our own individual exile and return. He is an accomplished thinker and he is also a very brilliant writer.
A review by Marcela London
Erel Shalit’s Requiem: A Tale of Exile and Return touched me deeply, deep into the waters of my soul. From that ocean, I will choose to mention a few of the many emerging waves.
The book traces historical events, in which the longing for home can be felt: a real home, a collective home, and the personal and internal home that the author aims at, by means of the narrator of the book, Eliezer Shimeoni.
This is his private odyssey, but in distinction from Ulysses, he chooses not to relate to the siren’s song as merely a danger, but rather as a call to make the journey towards the soul’s home.
Erel Shalit’s narrative has a unique, fascinating and powerful style, which touches you strongly. Particularly, he has a way of leading the reader to grasp complicated historical processes with unusual ease.
Interwoven in a narrative of fiction and seeming non-fiction, we meet familiar figures from philosophy and literature, such as Kafka, who asked his friend Max Brod to burn his books after his death, a wish which, to the great fortune of humankind, the latter did not fulfill. In Requiem the author brings us both to Heine and the burning of books, and back to the fate of Hananiah ben Terdion in the second century.
The story of the second-hand bookshop reminded me of Borges’s famous library; Shimeoni also found refuge in the many old books: “The old bookshop granted an escape into a world of history books and timeworn atlases in which he could sail across the sea of time and continents, where fear and excitement and heroism were free and asked no price. It was a world of books that he could browse but never buy, an odyssey that could only be traveled, but never owned.”
I was carried away by the ruminations of the protagonist who wonders if he was “a mere actor in the play? What he believed to be his own, free and individual will, his personal determination, his choice and his decisions, his own peculiar thoughts, were they nothing but the manifestation of his allocated role, the text he had been given, none of his own creation?” And, “Without soul, there is no water and no liquid, no stream, no steam, and perhaps also no dream, he told himself, almost speaking out loudly. Soul does not have material substance,” says Shimeoni in the book, in his Zen-like reflections. And he is reminded of the film Smoke, based on a script by Paul Auster. The film tells the story of Sir Walter Raleigh who asked Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century, “How do you weigh smoke?” Clever as she was, she supposedly answered him, “How can you weigh smoke? It’s like weighing air or someone’s soul,” we are told. But the narrator contemplates and eventually provides us with the surprising answer.
In Requiem we are presented with two distinct styles of writing, so that we are almost led to believe that two different authors wrote the book. We find not only the narrator of a story, but also the spiritual and lyrical face of the author.
I highly recommend this fascinating and important book, which presents the reader with the simultaneously intellectual and emotional landscapes of Erel Shalit.
Marcela London, poet, author of The Beginning Was Longing (Hebrew, 2013)
A review by Junko Chodes
REQUIEM - The Tone of a Masterpiece
From the first pages of this book, the tone of a masterpiece emerges powerfully.
This book makes us realize that the "Israel problem" cannot be understood in a journalistic frame of mind. Politics, war, land, culture, and contemporary experience are expressions of the deep core of human life, the core of the human soul.
This is an important book for anyone who thinks about "cultural identity" and the love of one's own country and culture.