Matalon, Ronit 1959-
MATALON, Ronit 1959-
PERSONAL: Born 1959, in Ganei Tikva, Israel. Education: Attended Tel Aviv University. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: Journalist, educator, and author. Journalist for Israeli television; currently journalist for Israeli daily Ha'aretz; critic and book reviewer. Camera Obscura School of the Arts, Tel Aviv, Israel, literature professor, 1993—. Member, Ministry of Education, Council for Culture and Art, and Van Leer Institute, Culture Forum of Mediterranean Culture.
AWARDS, HONORS: Israeli Prime Minister's Award for Literature, 1994.
(With Rut Tsarefati) Sipur she-mathil be-levayah shel nahash (juvenile fiction; title means "A Story That Begins with a Snake's Funeral"), Dvir (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1989.
Zarim ba-bayit: sipurim (title means "Strangers at Home"), ha-Kibuts ha-me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1992.
Zeh 'im ha-panim elenu, 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1995, translation by Marsha Weinstein published as The One Facing Us, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Osher me-ahore ha-'etsim, ha-Arets (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1997.
Sarah, Sarah, 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2000.
Kero u-khetov (title means "Read and Write"), ha-Kibuts ha-me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2001.
(With Avi Mugrabi and Dina Zvi-Riklis) Sipur shemathil bi-levayah shel nahash (screenplay; produced 1989; also released as Dreams of Innocence), Keren le-'idud ha-seret ha-Yise'eli (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1993.
(With others) Ashkenazim, Mizrahiyim, Sefaradim (screenplay), ha-Rashut ha-sheniyah la-televizyah vela-radyo, 1999.
Author's work has been translated into Dutch and German. Short stories translated and collected in anthologies, including "Photograph", translation by Gal Kedai and Miriyam Glazer, published in Dreaming of the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers, edited by Miryam Glazer, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2000; and "Little Brother", translation by Marsha Weinstein, in Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing, edited by Ammiel Alcalay, City Light Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
SIDELIGHTS: Ronit Matalon was born in the immigrant town of Ganei Tikva, outside Tel Aviv, Israel. Her early work was published in the 1980s in Siman Kri'a, a literary journal, followed by her first collection in 1991. She writes in Hebrew, mixed with Arabic, French, and sometimes English. Her writing has been recognized in English-language anthologies of Israeli writing, such as Dreaming of the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers and Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing. Her first translated novel, Zeh 'im ha-panim elenu, published in English as The One Facing Us, was very well received by a wider audience.
Matalon's works are heavily influenced by her life during Israel's coming of age, and are marked by the confusion and fighting stemming from contemporary events. Her 1984 short story "Little Brother" was inspired by Yitzak Gormezano Goren's description of the death of Shimon Yehoshua. It alludes to a similar circumstance, which is then relived again and again in the psyches of Matalon's characters. In this story, the dreams of life and work at a kibbutz become supplanted by worries of aging and financial troubles. The plot is simple, and Matalon leaves many details unsaid and unexplained though clues are filtered through her haunted characters.
In the novel The One Facing Us, an adolescent Esther serves as a mirror to her Levantine family and ancestors, loosely referencing Matalon's own Egyptian-Jewish roots. While staying with her Uncle Sicourelle in Cameroon, Esther searches through family photographs and subjectively retold stories for clues to help define her own identity. Matalon begins each chapter with photographs of the family, who have since dispersed from Egypt to Israel and New York. The initial catalyst for their exodus is Cairo's shattered post-war economy, in which the family is forced to choose between Zionism and communism. Esther learns of the family's struggles with failed marriages, poverty, the experiences of fighting for Israeli independence, and Uncle Sicourelle's own entrepreneurial ventures in Central America. Disappointed by Zionism, the scattered aunts and uncles long for the life they had in Egypt—but Esther finds memory is not necessarily accurate in its portrayal of past events. Bill Ott wrote in Booklist that The One Facing Us is "a family saga with the texture of reality. Plotless, oblique, but rich in character and filled with irony and guarded affection." It follows lives to find a common root, exposing guiltlessly what Susie Linfield of the Los Angeles Times described as the "stupidities, cohesions, ruptures, [and] radically imperfect modes of survival" of the family. Carpe librum's Matthias Kehle saw this premise as trite, but praised Matalon's sense of historical timing.
The family saga related in The One Facing Us reinforces the importance of and difficulty in assessing a personal history in Israelis' search for identity and roots, but it also alludes to other historical events. The novel's plot moves effortlessly through time and geography. Far more than a look at the changes in a family over time, it offers an insight into colonization and its echoes in a post-colonial Africa. The novel is further expanded by excerpts from the work of Egyptian-Jewish essayist Jacqueline Kahanoff, an analyst of the Middle East's Westernization and subsequent suppression of intrinsic cultural differences. In keeping a neutral tone to the novel, Matalon offers no personal reply to Kahanoff's criticisms. Instead, as noted by World Literary Journal's Gila Ramras-Rauch, through the use of these appropriated essays, Matalon can successfully "expand the parameters of her novel from personal first-person narrator to an intellectual discourse [which] allows for an escape from sentimentalism and pathos."
The subject of a search for truth is expounded on in Matalon's 1999 short story, "Photograph". In it, a presumably Israeli woman illegally crosses into the Gaza strip to learn about a missing Palestinian friend. In her mission, she is aided by another Palestinian. Matalon challenges the historical rivalry between Palestinians and Israelis by joining the few characters in a common quest for clarity, closure, and finally peace. Though the story pushes the ideas of death and a lack of safety, the narrator's tone seems detached, her actions almost routine. Dreaming of the Actual editor Miriyam Glazer viewed this as attributable to Matalon's assignment for Ha'aretz, a newspaper covering the Gaza and West Bank from 1985 to 1990. Personal experience, then, is key in creating the realism in all of Matalon's work.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alcalay, Ammiel, editor, Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing, City Light Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996, p. 205.
Glazer, Miriyam, editor, Dreaming of the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Woman Writers, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2000, pp. 193-194.
Booklist, June 1, 1998, Bill Ott, review of The One Facing Us, pp. 1725-1726.
Library Journal, June 1, 1998, Molly Abramowitz, review of The One Facing Us, p. 154.
New York Times Book Review, August 9, 1998, Elizabeth Gleick, review of The One Facing Us, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1998, review of The One Facing Us, pp. 202-203.
World Literature Today, winter, 1996, Dov Vardi, review of The One Facing Us, p. 235; spring, 1999, Gila Ramras-Rauch, review of The One Facing Us, pp. 387-388.
Carpe librum,http://www.carpe.com/ (September 8, 2002), Matthias Kehle, "Was die Bilder nicht erzählen."
Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature Web site,http://www.ithl.org.il/ (September 8, 2002).
Source,http://www.thesourceisrael.com/ (September 8, 2002), biography of Ronit Matalon.*