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Bookbeat: November 2004

Mourning a Father Lost: A Kibbutz Childhood Remembered

Mourning a Father Lost: A Kibbutz Childhood Rememberedby Avraham Balaban, Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures
Available through Amazon

Mourning a Father Lost is an account of parents who never experienced parenthood and children who missed out on childhood. Along with other kibbutz children of his generation, the book’s author, Avraham Balaban, grew up in this type of Israeli community that included the collective ownership of property, communal living, and the rearing of children by people assigned to the job by the kibbutz rather than by their parents alone. Balaban, professor of modern Hebrew literature in the Department of African and Asian Languages, stepped out of his academic role to write this very personal memoir in the aftermath of his father’s death.

Published in Hebrew in 2000 and this year in English, the book has caused quite a stir with its vivid portrayal of the costs to children and parents of a kibbutz society that imposed an ideological straightjacket on its members. It was a social experiment where everything was communally owned and children lived and slept together with little adult supervision in a building known as the children’s house. It was a place where parents were allowed to see their children for only one hour a day and where Balaban’s mother, a teacher, could not even leave her kindergarten group long enough to comfort her son once when he had fallen and hurt himself.

A childhood memoir was not the sort of book Balaban originally thought he could write. The book is based on actual events during his childhood but also includes fictitious names and conversations to convey certain aspects of kibbutz life. “I didn’t want to write a documentary, but fiction, and it was difficult to satisfy the literary critic in me,” he says. “It’s a very demanding process. When I write scholarly works, I know my pace. I know that at the end of the day I will have three or four typed pages. When I started writing fiction it was frustrating to sit from morning to evening and end up with a paragraph.”

But the writing brought its own satisfactions. “I received so many letters from people who thanked me for telling their own stories. So many are sure these stories are about themselves.” Some, however, are angry that he has ruined their idyllic view of kibbutz life. “I tried to say something about the flaws of the second generation, about the psychological toll, and I think this is what some people don’t like.”

Avraham Balaban, African and Asian Languages and Literatures, author of Mourning a Father LostAvraham Balaban, African and Asian Languages and Literatures, author of Mourning a Father Lost (Translated by Yael Lotan, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers)

The book is not the first to criticize the kibbutz educational system, but its literary power has given it a far greater impact in the public mind, as described by author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and Columbia University Professor Dan Miron, who each provided an endorsement quote about the book, with Miron writing, “An important, sensitive, extremely well-written literary work.... This crystallized elegy is written with restraint, wisdom, piercing insight, and impressive narrative and skill.”

Publishing his memoirs has turned Balaban into a semi-official expert on kibbutz life. He was interviewed by the BBC and has been asked to write an introductory chapter for a book accompanying an exhibition on the children’s house to be held next year at the Tel Aviv Museum in Israel.

-Michal Meyer

Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale

Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Taleby Kenneth B. Kidd, Department of English,
(University of Minnesota Press, 2004)
Available through Amazon

Will boys be boys? What are little boys made of? Kenneth B. Kidd responds to these familiar questions with a thorough review of boy culture in America since the late nineteenth century. From the “boy work” promoted by character-building organizations such as scouting and 4-H to current therapeutic and pop psychological obsessions with children’s self-esteem, Kidd presents the great variety of cultural influences on the changing notion of boyhood. Analyzing icons of boyhood and maleness from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town and Max in Where the Wild Things Are to Elián González and even Michael Jackson, Kidd surveys films, psychoanalytic case studies, parenting manuals, historical accounts of the discoveries of “wolf-boys,” and self-help books to provide a rigorous history of what it has meant to be an all-American boy.


Environmental Politics and Policy

Environmental Politics and Policyby Walter A. Rosenbaum, Department of Political Science
(CQ Press, 2004)
Available through Amazon

Coming to grips with today’s environmental policy challenges is no small feat. What are the major environmental policy changes under the George W. Bush administration, and how do they compare with policies of previous administrations? What are the merits—and limits—of recent market approaches to environmental regulation and management? How can students best understand the concept of “acceptable risk” and other scientifically-based decision making tools with regard to the regulation of toxic substances? Rosenbaum’s classic, comprehensive text—now in a totally revised sixth edition—offers definitive coverage of environmental politics and policy, lively case material, and a balanced assessment of current environmental issues.


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