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Looking the beast in the eye

“That’s my worst nightmare.”

I’ve heard these exact words from literally dozens of neighbors, friends and readers since I released my dystopian novel, “Enfold Me,” which is set in an appropriately nightmarish Middle East after the fall of Israel. This phrase is usually followed by “That’s too real, I don’t even want to think about it.”

Ignoring the negative implications this attitude could have for book sales, it got me wondering whether I am especially dark and macabre (maybe), a visionary (highly unlikely), notably brave in broaching a formerly taboo subject (even more unlikely), or just infinitely more scared than everyone else (the most probable scenario). This led me to consider why, at a time when dystopian fiction is all the rage worldwide (the Hunger Games, and countless other examples), there’s not a lot of it coming out ofIsrael. In fact, there’s almost none.

book enfoldme200There is the recent novel by Yali Sobol, “Fingers of a Pianist,” released in May of this year, which is set in Tel Aviv under an alternate regime. Not total destruction, but not a sunny, bunny-hugging premise, either. And there’s the 2008 novel by Dutch immigrant Leon de Winter, “The Right of Return” (never translated to English). But that’s pretty much it, since the mid-late 1980s, when there was a small wave of dystopian fiction, the most notable being Amos Keinan’s “The Road to Ein Harod.”

So, is Sobol, an established voice in Israeli literature and music, the harbinger of a new wave of dystopian literature coming out of Israel, on whose coattails newcomers like me might hope to ride?

To be honest, I doubt it.

Literature generally reflects the society that produces it. In an era when fear is pervasive, societies don’t like to dwell on either the source or the potential realization of their anxieties. And who can blame them? Whether the fear is based in reality or fanned by politicians for their own inscrutable purposes, it’s still there, all the time, rubbing up against your life whether you like it or not. So, why not choose to focus your gaze on the flowers, the children on the playground, scantily-clad beachgoers, or a reality TV show? Why not focus on anything except the elephant — in this case, perhaps a drooling beast would be a more apt image — in the room?

So what I want to know, here in my “dark world” (as one friend defined it), is this: Do we, by ignoring the beast, grant him greater power over us? Or can we, by staring him in the eyes, by acknowledging our fear of him, yet not allowing that fear to consume us, drive him back — even if only a centimeter? This, I believe, was the power of dystopian classics like Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World. And now, perhaps it’s time not only to stare the beast in the eye, but to strike a blow — even if it is a small one.

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