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Deserter

Ilai Rowner

Avshalom, a young Israeli doing his military service, goes AWOL, burns his uniform and hides out in an retirement home in Jerusalem. He feels burnt out, trapped--the memory of a violent clash with Palestinians in Hebron doesn’t let him rest. As he sees it, it’s not only his problem--there’s something gnawing away at Israeli society and culture in general, as if some disease were spreading beneath the surface. And he knows that he will have to choose: either to stay and accept, or leave the country and try to start afresh elsewhere. So he travels to Paris to get away from Israel and write a book. He rents a studio apartment, registers at the university, looks for a job and even meets a German girl, like him a foreigner. But it doesn’t help, he falls into loneliness and despair. For in Paris, he still feels surrounded by evil and cruelty: the bleeding “Israeli wound” and his traumatic experience remain with him. He also sees no point in writing. Should literature still be written? Can it offer salvation? Only at the end, when again he reaches the end of the road, does he manage to free himself, spread his wings and soar. But it may be too late.

Rowner’s powerful, unsettling novel is written as a feverish monologue, full of honesty and madness. One reads it with bated breath. And although it takes place in a European city, it is an Israeli book in the fullest sense of the word.

 

 

COMPLETE ENGLISH TRANSLATION AVAILABLE (for publishers only).


REVIEWS

A book that is all derangement, and that is one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever read. And at the end of it, I was panting as if I’d completed an exhausting, purifying run ... With its feverish monologues, it reminded me of Louis Ferdinand Celine and Journey to the End of the Night, and the Camus of The Fall: lofty trees, and good … Thrilling originality … It is possible to actually feel the authenticity and reliability of the descriptions … This is almost not a book, but a film, with almost all of it visual and believable and with that, also entirely imaginary. Ilai Rowner seems to me to be a young man who is all judgment, good taste and erudition, but in his heart he is furious, like all of us really are, and desperate, like all of us really are … With him, one feels the breathlessness of running, the bodily fluids pouring out of one’s pores. 

Benny Ziffer, Haaretz

Rowner’s Deserter hews a clean and distinct cut in the cultural and literary continuum, between its appearance and everything that preceded it. It thereby positions itself as the book of an era, the herald of things to come … Every few years this happens. A book comes out that redefines the coordinates for the constellation known as “Hebrew Literature” … Like a sinkhole that opens up in the culture and sucks into itself new contexts and unexpected interpretations. That is what the book Deserter by Ilai Rowner is like. It has a style which no original Hebrew work has ever attempted, and it has a mighty passion that informs its hero’s journey with moral and historical validity … The strength of Deserter lies in its style. This manner of speech, dashing around and seeking the right phrase even while things are happening, not allowing ideas to achieve closure as it keeps on moving perpetually – movement that perfectly embodies the unrest in the culture … The virtuosity of the language imports the qualities of French prose … A book like this isn’t written every day, and it is not every day that a writer undertakes such a degree of radicalism. This is perhaps the degree of radicalism required to bring something new into the world … Of this book, an author has been born, one with a remarkable style, deserving of high praise. 

Orian Morris, Haaretz

This is how great writers are born: Deserters is a flawless first novel … A model of sensitivity, freshness, and a unique, unforgettable voice … It is rare to come across so unique a voice … It is very easy to identify with the hero of Deserter … Everything is meticulous, everything is special, everything feels organic … For literature like this there has never been so great a need.

Nimrod Ofran, Walla

Ilai Rowner is offering, in his first novel, an original work that one reads with bated breath. The book opens with a prologue that heralds a tempest of literature as well as an exposition of  the pointlessness of writing in times like these … The direct and trenchant beginning immediately conquers us and turns the tables on its very own contention. Literature is alive and kicking very nicely, even in a society afflicted by decay, and Rowner demonstrates this with great skill … Rowner’s knowledge and broad erudition thoroughly saturate each sentence, but despite the lofty trees that he invokes, which cast a great shadow, his text remains intimate and naked … A biting and superb text … The hero’s desertion, with its military connotation, is enlisted in this first novel to make a broad existentialist statement …The unstable psychological liquidity of the hero creates an intimate poetry with a lovely melancholic hue, and his internal mental syntax ignites the magic. Ultimately, Rowner succeeds in producing the hero’s free glide toward a modest eternity in the reader’s hearts. This is the mysterious moment at which the artistic act transpires, and the words do not sink into oblivion but rather find their footholds in the real world.

Simona Baht, Ynet

A promising first novel by Ilai Rowner, written as an attempt at escape … But what makes this attempt impressive is the manner in which he also wants to escape from literature, from language. The entire text is written in the urgent pace of the hunted prey, panting and frenetic, as if written on the run … The book touches upon one of the most loaded and explosive matters in the Israeli existence – the deep feeling of victimhood that lies within it, even as it engages in the perpetual assertion of its sovereignty … Against the backdrop of local literature, Rowner’s attempt is unusual, original, refreshing and daring.

Shira Stav, Haaretz

Rowner’s deserter – a stormy, defiant, delusional type – is somewhat reminiscent of the enraged prophet, of the stupidity and urban desolation of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver … He scrutinizes the city and himself in a manner that is no less hostile, holds the culture he belongs to in violent and utter contempt … Deserter may mark the extreme point in the process undergone by the Israeli soldier in literature … It actually corresponds with literature that is not Israeli – with the great critical novels of the early 20th century.

Yoni Livneh, Yedioth Ahronoth

 

Ilai Rowner’s writing is sweeping, compressed, short of breath. The text is loaded, explosive, high- octane. This is at the same time an upsetting and a splendid book. No mean achievement for a first book, and indeed for any novel.

Jonathan de Shalit, Makor Rishon

An frenetic book … Against the backdrop of the conservative literature being written nowadays, it is particularly enjoyable to read Rowner’s book, which celebrates derangement.

Yiftach Ashkenazy, Mako

 

An enveloping monologue … Rowner’s frantic rhetoric does the intellect a favor … A distilled and precise description of what’s known as “the lost generation,” in an Israeli version.

Michael Ginzburg, Yekum Tarbut

The plot of Deserter is thrilling and emotion-packed … This is a disturbing monologue, full of honesty, that is taking place in the secret places of the mind of a person who wants to be free of the shackles of memory and of sin … In lucid language, but with profound thought about injustice, hypocrisy and the life that could have been, Rowner is revealed as one of the most brilliant voices that are writing today.

Liat Ofri, Hamigzar

 

The first book by Ilai Rowner, Deserter, is a new and rousing voice in Hebrew fiction. His story begins the novel with an acknowledgement that there is no longer a need for literature today. But in explaining why literature is superfluous, he creates a bountiful and unsettling novel.

The Sapir Prize Committee

The main accomplishment of the novel is in the skillful combination of a contemporary French literary style replete with acerbic irony, and the tradition of male bildungsroman stories in Hebrew literature.

The Ministry of Culture Prize for Debut Book Committee


A courageous and ground-braking experiment in Hebrew literature, written with glaring talent. A novel charged with uncontrollable and fierce carnal energies.

Dr. Michal Ben-Naftali, author

 

A dynamic, convincing and cohesive book.­­ Rowner’s plot skillfully moves from internal to external drama, while being acutely aware of the genre and its conventions to which he subscribes and which he also resists. These are both its formal and narrative aspects, therefore, that make it such an interesting piece.

Dr. Giddon Ticotsky, Editor

 

Breathtaking. The choice of words and the use of grammar grabbed me from the very first page. Regardless of being a debut novel, it is truly unbelievable. It’s powerful, it rushes on, it’s ruthless. I’ve never encountered an Israeli author that speaks this language. Never.

Rama Ayalon, Translator

 

The descriptions are really beautiful ... It's the story of our lives.

Nurith Gertz, Radio 103.FM

 

A wonderful, subversive book.

Author Tamar Gelbetz, Haaretz


Title Deserter
Author’s Last Name Rowner
Author's First Name Ilai
Language(s) Hebrew
Genre novel
Publisher (Hebrew) Yedioth Ahronoth
Year of Publication (Hebrew) 2015
No. Pages 205 pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Arik
Representation Represented by ITHL
 
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