11 Israeli Books you Must Read
From literary masterpieces to contemporary and up-and-coming works, check out our top reading choices for the holidays.
For some people, summer is all about getting out there and getting active – snorkeling, diving, hiking, cycling and whatnot in beautiful weather. For others, it’s all about firmly planting themselves poolside or beachside and not getting up until they finish that book they’ve been dying to read all year.
If you fall into the latter category, check out our list of the best books from Israeli authors to devour this summer. Some are fun, others are masterpieces that require a week’s vacation, and all would be perfectly accompanied by a cold coffee or beer. Happy summer!
1. A Long Night in Paris by Dov Alfon
Set in Paris and Tel Aviv, this contemporary thriller follows the disappearance of an Israeli high-tech entrepreneur that mysteriously involves military intelligence’s Unit 8200, Chinese spymasters and French morgues. Written by veteran Israeli journalist and former intelligence officer Dov Alfon, this breezy thriller makes the perfect poolside read.
2. My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir by Meir Shalev
Author Meir Shalev’s grandmother Tonia left Russia for pre-state Israel in 1923, and from then on lived in constant battle. Not against the British Mandate, her Arab neighbors or the disease-stricken environment, but against the real enemy: dirt. To aid her in her fight, Tonia received a vacuum cleaner from a rich uncle in America, but as could be expected, it was pretty much kept under lock and barrel for years to come. A tale of family, pioneers and countryside living, this is a fun, easygoing book from one of Israel’s favorite authors.
Set in biblical Israel, Yochi Brandes’ bestselling book tells the tale of the epic struggle between King Saul and King David, as told by Michal – Saul’s daughter and David’s queen. Similar to her other works, here too Brandes sheds new light and brings to life an ancient story in a riveting way. So sit back, sip on your drink and indulge in this historical novel for a fresh look at the story we all think we know.
One of Israel’s most celebrated writers, Etgar Keret is a maestro when it comes to short stories. Missing Kissinger, perhaps his most iconic work, bears all his hallmarks – fun, witty and absurd stories that always manage to touch our hearts. Definitely one for when it’s too hot outside to read more than a few pages at a time.
Ayelet Tsabari’s collection of 11 tales is quintessentially Israeli. Focusing on Jews of Middle Eastern and North African heritage of all ages, she brings to the fore their journey for their place in the world and gives English-language readers a chance to learn about the burdens of history and communities not usually well represented in local literature. Told with a fresh perspective and a great touch, this is one for those interested in getting to know the different populations of Israel a bit better.
There’s really no need to introduce Hebrew University Prof. Yuval Noah Harari. The man who made history mainstream with Sapiens and ignited an interest in mankind’s future with Homo Deus has now turned his attention to the present with thought-provoking essays on our very real and timely challenges. We can’t say it’s uplifting but it is certainly engrossing.
During World War II, two men were sent from pre-state Israel to Europe on a unique mission – to marry European Jewish women to grant them entry into Mandatory Palestine. But the fake marriages didn’t work out quite as planned when one man ends up falling in love with his distressed bride, leading to a lifelong obsession. In this personal, touching story, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen manages to give a glimpse of life in Israel and wartime Europe, making it a great historical romance to get lost in this summer.
We can’t mention touching historical romances without mentioning the late, great Amos Oz, whose grand biographical masterpiece is an absolute must for literature lovers worldwide. Combining his family’s personal history with the birth of the State of Israel, Oz masterfully recreates Jewish European history, war-torn Jerusalem and early years of statehood in the most intimate manner. Neither a short nor easy read, this is one for those wanting to utilize their vacation to plough through the classic they’ve kept by their bedside table all year.
Often referred to as the Israeli Agatha Christie, Batya Gur does detective stories really, really well. In this book, part of a series focusing on detective Michael Ohayon, Gur introduces the readers to the underbelly of kibbutz life and the strange personalities inhabiting it as Ohayon sets out to discover a murder mystery. As well as the regular detective fun, this book gives a fabulous sneak peek at the less glamorous or idealized aspects of the kibbutz, instead showing the hardships, bizarreness and downright elitism of its colorful characters. Best enjoyed in the most luxurious and capitalist vacation surroundings.
In his award-winning novel, Evan Fallenberg touches on the most Jewish and Israeli of themes: Family. He tells the tale of Joseph, who had left his family and religious community after falling in love with a rabbi. Twenty years later, his five sons are coming over for Shabbat in celebration of his 50th birthday in the Tel Aviv apartment he shares with another man. Thought-provoking, moving and honest, this is a great read for all those who like taking their time reflecting and pondering the book they’re holding.
Opening in an immigrant transit camp in Jerusalem in the 1950s, Haim Sabato tells the semi-autobiographical story of newly arrived Israelis in the country’s first years. The protagonist, a young boy who came to Israel from Egypt, has found himself the neighbor of Jews from Hungary, whose sadness and oddness he learns are the result of the Holocaust. On his deathbed years later, one of the older Hungarian neighbors entrusts the protagonist with three missions, to ensure that his and his family’s tale survives after him. A moving and fascinating recollection of Israel’s early years and the challenges facing its brand-new citizens, this book is wonderful.