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A Ship of Girls

Michal Zamir’s protagonist has no name. After all she is only an ordinary soldier, a faceless object in a chauvinistic environment where teen­age girls are playthings for male officers. At 19 she is one of many girls sent to serve in the IDF Staff and Command College – a dull job that includes filing, phone answering, and coffee making, but demands far more. She finds herself in a whirlwind of degradation and self-loathing, her self-respect and personality gone. Rebellion is of no use in this unbalanced war of the sexes. When she arrives at the base she meets her predecessor Michaela who shoots herself in the head just before her discharge from the army – a drastic move that ruffles no feathers. The frequent pregnancies of her peers are also no big deal; Zamir-s protagonist isn’t raped or particularly keen on sex, yet she undergoes five abortions. The condensed air at the base stifles her feelings and deadens her mind, the sex is passionless, meaningless and mechanical. Only with the guard Moshe, a Russian immigrant who dreams of starting a new life in a different world, does she experience friendship without sexual tension. The banality is broken by Alma, a soldier who decides to carry her pregnancy to term. She’ll raise the child on the base; after all, she reasons, the IDF is its father. The atmosphere changes briefly during the time the female soldiers await the birth, but the “project” fails: mother and baby are forced to leave.

The world Zamir depicts is both familiar and strange. The army experience is a central part of contemporary Israeli culture, yet in the world Zamir has created, the rules are new. The girls in this novel are like in a ship that has been torn from the harbor, tossing alone in wild waters. Two years later the boat returns, the cargo doors open, and out come young women. They will be replaced by a new batch of girls with a similar fate. Zamir’s brand of feminism is bitter and tragic.

Title A Ship of Girls
Writer's Last Name Zamir
Writer's First Name Michal
Genre Fiction
Publisher (Hebrew) Xargol
No. Pages 191pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Sfinat Ha-Banot
  • “ Michal Zamir has done something important...With her laconic yet lively style... she has sketched the situation of being at someone else's mercy, without isolating this from daily life.”

  • “ Written with a great deal of intelligence and humor.”

  • “ Zamir's magnificent, highly concentrated first novel is wonderfully sharp... One of the most successful examples of committed Israeli literature.”