Reveals the intimate ties between selfhood and nationality, life story and national narrative, through Hebrew autobiography

Theorists of autobiography tend to emphasize the centrality of the individual against the community. By contrast, in her reading of Hebrew autobiography, Tamar Hess identifies the textual presence and function of the collective and its interplay with the Israeli self. What characterizes the ten writers she examines is the idea of a national self, an individual whose life story takes on meaning from his or her relation to the collective history and ethos of the nation. Her second and related argument is that this self—individually and collectively—must be understood in the context of waves of immigration to Israel’s shores. Hess convincingly shows that autobiography is a transnational genre deeply influenced by the nation’s literary as well as cultural history.

This book makes an additional contribution to the history of autobiography and contemporary autobiography theory by analyzing the strategies of fragmentation that many of the writers Hess studies have adopted as ways of dealing with the conflicts between the self and the nation, between who they feel they are and what they are expected to be. Hess contrasts the predominantly masculine tradition of Hebrew autobiography with writings by women, and offers a fresh understanding of the Israeli soul and the Hebrew literary canon.

A systematic review of contemporary Hebrew autobiography, this study raises fundamental questions essential to the debates about identity at the heart of Israeli culture today. It will interest scholars and students of contemporary Israeli culture, as well as those intrigued by the literary genre of autobiography.

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Reviews / Endorsements:

“In this finely crafted, upbeat study of Hebrew autobiography, Tamar Hess probes intergenerational family dynamics to draw a complex and richly nuanced portrait of Israeli national identity experience.”—Paul John Eakin, author ofLiving Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative

Self as Nation is a brilliant and original analysis of the surprising transformations of the classical genre of autobiography in Israel. Hess takes the reader through a penetrating reading of the texts while providing a revolutionary perspective on the evolution of the Israeli ‘self.’ The book offers a unique insight—rare in its optimism—into how autobiography takes its place within the nation’s story.”—Nili Scharf Gold, author of Yehuda Amichai: The Making of Israel’s National Poet

“Hess’s penetrating study of autobiography illuminates with extraordinary precision the debates about identity at the heart of Israeli culture today. The beautifully written pages of Self as Nation lay bare the inevitably imbricated relations between selfhood and nationality, memory and history, inheritance and community. Self as Nation marks a major contribution both to the field of autobiography studies and to the tradition of Hebrew literature.”—Nancy K. Miller, author of What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past



TAMAR HESS is Sidney and Betty Sarah Berg Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Language in the Department of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.