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The Pure Element of Time

Haim Be’er’s new book is a flawless combination of autobiography and novel about a writer’s development. With his talent for description, his profound psychological insights and his rich writing style, Be’er turns the story of his life and the lives of his parents into a complex, gripping work of art.

Haim was born in an old Jerusalem neighborhood, the only child of an orthodox family in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the beginning of the State of Israel that defied the stereoytpe of a religious Jewish family. The boy, who inherited an aesthetic sense from his parents and grew up to be a poet and novelist, seeks in this book to reconstruct his parents’ personalities, their peculiar relationship, and their influence upon him as a man and as an artist.

The book is built as a triptych, in which the two end panels frame the principal scene. The first part deals mainly with the character of the grandmother, a kind of living archive of the family’s history as well as a natural storyteller whose tales entrance her grandson. The third part takes place mostly after the father’s death, and depicts the author’s first steps as a writer. The central and main part, deals with Be’er’s childhood and adolescence and the story of his parents’ marriage – a second and late marriage for both, to which each brought a difficult and bitter burden from the past. Their relationship is a web of contrasts – between the Jerusalem-born woman, who is revealed to be independent, courageous, wise and amazingly clear-headed, and the older man, a defeated and withdrawn refugee from the Russian pogroms, who lives a life repression and pretence, but mainly of contradiction between his attachment to a religious lifestyle and his conviction that there is no God.

The most significant relationship is between the boy and his mother, with whom he forms an alliance (also against the father) which is never broken. Be’er’s mother is the real heroine of this book: she shaped her son’s personality and set him on his path as a writer.

Chinese, Dutch, English, German, Italian
Title The Pure Element of Time
Writer's Last Name Be’er
Writer's First Name Haim
Genre Fiction
Publisher (Hebrew) Am Oved
No. Pages 332pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Chavalim
  • “ This robust and complex novel is an outstanding and unparalleled piece of work. ”

  • “ A fascinating and complex literary statement. Be’er offers us a rich variety of literary possibilities that investigate how identities are shaped... The novel has a fascinating linguistic approach. It is written as a kind of pastiche of different styles, creating a strong effect of stylization that continually questions its own authority. ”

    Herald Tribune (Israel)
  • “ A wonderful book - deep and wise, ripe and complex, that reverberates with interesting and beautiful subject matter.”