Shabtai wrote his brilliant collection of stories, Uncle Peretz Takes Off, about the early days of Tel Aviv shortly before he began work on his masterpiece, Past Continuous. In this new selection from Uncle Peretz, his protagonists - who live in a surrealistic, quixotic world of their own - take off from their drab surroundings in small-town Tel Aviv of the 1940s and soar into fantasies where they change the world, the country and their personal lives. Among these tragi-comic characters, we find Uncle Pinnek, the eternal dreamer who wants to start a Jewish circus in Tel Aviv; Uncle Shmuel, who moves house all the time with his wife complaining that "his imagination will lead [them] to the grave;" and the ribald Tamara Bell who poses for artists and suddenly dies, in the last story in the book. Their fantasies, which always have an erotic streak, float in a heaven of longing but they are also an abyss the characters fall into as they sleepwalk past the limits of gravity, refuse to admit failure and drag others along with them.
In all of the stories, Shabtai portrays his heroes` way of life and their inner world with great subtlety; his perspective is ironic, yet at the same time infinitely gentle and compassionate. The tale of Tamara`s death ends with a phrase that pinpoints all of the characters` aspirations: "Welcome to New York," it says. This is the thread that connects the stories: death and dreams, two ways of escaping from life. Thus this book becomes a metaphor for all Israeli reality, where every foundation stone stands next to an open grave.
One of the most important pioneers of Israeli literature… A blend of local realism with fantasy à la Fellini and Marx.
These stories are not only heartrending, clever and funny, but also complex and highly sophisticated. Their greatness lies in Shabtai’s mischievous and cunning storytelling ability… They have hypnotic power.
Reading the stories in A Circus in Tel Aviv reminds us that this is the real thing: a fascinating and profoundly beautiful literary work of art.