CITY OF BLOK (1988).

City of Blok

The Times Literary Supplement, by Bryan Cheyette, October 14-20 1988:
Simon Louvish was born in Glasgow but was taken to West Jerusalem at the age of two, where he spent his next nineteen years, serving as an army cameraman during the Six Day War. Since leaving Israel in 1968, Louvish has co-produced a series of controversial political documentaries about South Africa, Greece and the occupied West Bank and has written an autobiographical work and two novels, The Therapy of Avram Blok (1985) and The Death of Moishe Ganef (1986). City of Blok is the sequel to Louvish’s first novel and is… the most clearly focused, primarily because it concen¬trates specifically on the heady years of Israeli nationalism which reached a new peak with the election of Menachem Begin in 1977 and the Lebanon War in 1982.

City of Blok is set during these fateful five years and opens with Avram Blok – “The Man with No Past” – leaving his Jerusalem asylum (his place of refuge in The Therapy of Avram Blok). Forced into the maelstrom of Levantine politics, Blok encounters Jewish fascists, Palestinian resistance, and Israeli Peaceniks – in short a world “composed of a thousand splinters”. Rather like Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth’s alter ego in his recent series of novels, Blok illustrates the dangerous blurring of fiction and reality which occurs in a city like Jerusalem-or, even, Newark, where, in Louvish’s words, “the past has taken over the present”. Louvish is rather more frenzied than Roth – though no less humorous – but, unlike Roth, he excels as a political satirist in the school of Heller and Vonnegut. The form of City of Blok, moreover, imitates the “frac¬tured” society into which Louvish’s persona is plunged…

No writer has captured better – in city walks and bus routes – the minutiae of present-day Jerusalem and, at the same time, illustrated the Unreal qualities of the city to confirm Jonathan Miller’s descrip¬tion of it as a “Jewish Disney Land”. Louvish’s intention, clearly, is to reproduce contempor¬ary history as if it were pure fantasy. Was there really a televised State burial of martyred skeletons, many thousands of years old, found recently in caves in the Judaean desert? And, if this were true – and it is – then perhaps there was a secret assignment by the Department of Apocalyptic Affairs to track down a sheep made radioactive by Palestinian guerrillas. Yet, if all viewpoints are equally absurd in this novel, then Louvish merely reinforces what one of his characters calls the “deification of the irrational”, or, citing Bunuel, he accepts “as real” the “world of the imagination”.

City of Blok is especially powerful when it finally differentiates between its proliferating Babel of voices. The Palestinian episodes are particularly convincing in this regard and the novel makes out a passionate case – based on what look like actual soldiers’ letters home – against the horrific Lebanon incursion. A bib¬lical mock-mythology, underpinning the novel, is hardly distinguishable from the various historical and political mythologies woven into the narrative of City of Blok… This makes reading Louvish particularly terrify¬ing. For he has probably anticipated – better than anyone outside Israel – further madness to come…

From the first chapter:

‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’

– Stephen Dedalus, in James Joyce’s Ulysses

Where am I?

Who am I?

What am I?

Your name is Avram Blok. Your father is Baruch. Your mother, Shoshanah. Conception, Budapest, in the ruins of war. Birth, aboard the immigrant ship, Irma Klein, en route from Trieste to Palestine. Your first utterance, a strangled cry, as usual. (Do we have to labour the obvious?) Education: Jerusalem, kin¬dergarten, primary, secondary. Army service, from 1965. Your army number: 958633. Your identity card number: 3425648. Your health insurance number: 876432. The size of your shoes: Nine. The size of your collar: 40. Inside leg: 78 centimetres. Colour of hair: Brown (or was until depilation due to natural causes in coma; no carcinogenic evidence). Colour of eyes: Brown. Present location: Bed 15, Ward 6, T-t State Mental Hospital. Present condition: wheelchair case. Distinguishing features: A long record of chronic malingering. GET ON YOUR FEET, SLACKER! We don’t have to tell you all this, do we? You know the whole fucking schmeer. Faking innocence as usual, eh, Yul Brynner? Lying there quiet as a corpse, offering nothing, evading your responsibilities…

The Man With No Past.

A likely story.


Contours of the bed, line, white, metal bars, tubes entering the body, the left nostril, the nose, a linkage to the outside world, part of which can be wheeled down ruts of tiles, the walls of the corridors, dull blue-grey, plaster bulging like random braille symbols – Remember the Rorschach, brothers! clues for the moronity of science, the limits of organized imagination, order in the swirl, meaning in chaos, desire under the elms, teahouses in august moons, Decembrist rebellions, armies on the march, Uzzy¬mandias, remember the alarm-O, sirens in the night, blackouts at noon, the winter sun in the crosslights of barred windows, rumbling vehicles without, the sound of thunder, waterworks from the sky, laughter and tears, jam sandwiches, the old school¬house door, benches at dawn, wellington boots at mourning, fusillades over graves, cantankerous cantors, the bar mitzvah boy, the hand writing, the open Book, examinations failed, certificates passed, forms of progress, urine and faecal, the little jar of piss, the phial of crap, whitecoats to the rescue, prick of the needle, a tumescence renewed, shades of Nurse Nili, the philosopher stoned, the unknown soldier, absent friends, keening relatives, clerks from the ministry, army Charlie chaplains, prick of the needle, the wheeled chair, comrades in misfortune, sunflower seeds underfoot, grinning nutcase faces, One of Us, Return to Sender, Address Unknown, tumescence again, rub-a-dub-dub, laxation certified, a self-expressed toilet graffito:


A mere drop in the ocean . . .

Anybody there??

– Good morning. My name is Yakin. I am to try to help you to recover the hidden power of language. Speaking in tongues, ha, ha, ha. I believe it’s all there, just reserved for better times. I teach deaf and dumb persons, but your case should be simpler. We are dealing with memory, which is like sex, no? heh, heh, heh. Once practised, never completely erased…

(now read on…)