Michael, Sami 1926-
MICHAEL, Sami 1926-
PERSONAL: Born 1926, in Baghdad, Iraq; immigrated to Iran, 1948, immigrated to Israel, 1949; children: two. Education: Attended Haifa University (Israel).
ADDRESSES: Home—Haifa, Israel. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Rd., London N1 9RR, England.
CAREER: Author, translator, and newspaper editor. Ministry of Agriculture, Israel, hydrologist, 1949-74. Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies visiting fellow, 2000; supporter of Center for the Protection of Democracy in Israel. Appears on Israeli radio and television broadcasts.
AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Neger, 2000, for contributions to Hebrew literature; Prix WIZO, France, for Victoria; Israeli Prime Minister's Prize; Ze'ev Prize; ACUM Award; IBBY Award (Berlin, Germany).
Shavim ve-shavim yoter (title means "All Men Are Equal—but Some Are More"), Hotsa'at Bustan (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1974.
Sufah ben ha-dekalim (youth; title means "Palm Trees in the Storm"), 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1975.
Hasut, 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1977, translation by Edward Grossman published as Refuge, Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1988.
Hofen shel'arafel (title means "A Handful of Mist"), 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1979.
(With Dani Kerman) Pahonim va-halomot (youth; title means "Shacks and Dreams"), 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1979.
Shedim Ba-Martef (title means "Demons in the Basement"), produced at Haifa Theater, 1983.
Bedouins: The Sinai Nomads, photographs by Shlomo Arad, translated by Shoshana Rothschild, Massada (Ramat-Gan, Israel), 1984.
Eleh shivte Yisra'el: shetem esreh sihot 'al ha-she'elah ha-'adatit (title means "These Are the Tribes of Israel: Twelve Interviews about Social Integration in Israel"), Sifiyat po'alim and ha-Kibuts ha-Artsi ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1984.
Memories (part of "My Parents' House," Volume III: "Reading and Study Material on Jewish Roots" series), Center for Programming, Department of Development and Community Services, W.Z.O. (Jerusalem, Israel), 1986.
Chatsotsra Ba'waddi [and] Hatsotstah ba-vadi (title means "A Trumpet in the Wadi"), 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1987.
Teomim (title means "Twins"), produced at Haifa Theater, 1988.
(With Nurit Tsarefati) Ahavah ben ha-dekalim (Juvenile; title means "Love among the Palms"), Domino (Jerusalem, Israel), 1990.
Viktoryah, 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1993, translation by Dalya Bilu published as Victoria, Macmillan (London, England), 1995.
(With Volf Bulbah) Shedim humim (youth; title means "Brown Devils"), Yedi'ot aharonot (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1993.
(With Aleks Zehavi and Gil'ad Yisrael) Ahavah ben ha-dekalim (fiction) ha-Rashut ha-meshutefet lehinukh Yehudi Tsiyoni, ha-Mahlakah le-hinukh ule-tarbut Yehudiyim ba-golah, Hadar Ben-Tsiyon (Jerusalem, Israel), 1998.
ha-Kanaf ha-shelishit (title means "Third Wing"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 2000.
(With Rubik Rozental) Gevulot ha-ruah: sihot 'im Ruvik Rozental (title means "Unbounded Ideas: Ruvik Rosenthal Talks with Sami Michael"), ha-Kibuts ha-me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2000.
Mayim noshkim le-mayim (title means "Water Kissing Water") 'Am 'oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2001.
ha-Havayah ha-Yisre'elit (title means "Israeli Experience"), Sifriyat Ma'ariv (Ot Yehudah, Israel), 2001.
Contributor to Bulletin of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo; contributor to Sleepwalkers and Other Stories: The Arab in Hebrew Fiction, edited by Ehud Ben-Ezer, Lynne Rienner (Boulder, CO), 1999.
Author's works have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, and Russian.
ADAPTATIONS: Chatsotsra Ba'waddi was adapted for film by Amit Lior, directed by Lina and Slava Chaplin, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Israeli novelist Sami Michael was born to a large, extended family (hamila) of Sephardic Jews in Baghdad, Iraq. In the 1940s, he became actively involved with an underground communist group which fought to undermine the Iraqi regime. To escape prosecution, he fled to Iran in 1948, and, facing extradition there, escaped to Israel the following year. In Israel, he fulfilled his obligatory military service and worked for twenty-five years as a hydrologist, surveying water sources along the Syrian border. He began writing early, first in Arabic, then Hebrew, and was first published in 1973. In addition to his own writing, Michael has translated into Hebrew the writings of Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz. Only two of Michael's novels have been published in English.
Michael's writing strives to bring into peaceful balance and understanding the opposing forces in the Middle East: the Jews and Arabs, communists and nationalists, men and women. He works to highlight the alienation within a people, bound by common religion, but not ethnic background and custom. The juxtaposed pairing in his novels draws heavily upon his own experiences. As Michael explained to Gershon Shaked during a roundtable discussion transcribed in Modern Hebrew Literature: "I am Iraqi and I am also Israeli. These two identities exist in me and I love them both because they are a part of me. Both these rivers flow into my work." A history of dual identity, coupled with a history of war, transpires throughout his stories.
Hasut, published in English as Refuge, is set during the aftermath of the 1973 October War (Yom Kippur War). It centers on only a few characters, and all seem to be outsiders, political refugees in forced or voluntary exile. Marduch, a Jewish exile from Iraq, houses Fathki, an Arab poet and fellow communist, during a foreign—presumably Arab—invasion. When Marduch leaves to fight for Israel, Fathki is left alone with his host's wife and retarded son. The situation faces the characters with not only political, but also moral and sexual tension. As a commentor for Kirkus Reviews pointed out, the plot is analogous to the Palestinian's "guest" stay in the Israeli state, but the analogy then assigns unfavorable characteristics to the Arab population. According to a review in Publishers Weekly, the presentation of the chiefly Israeli-communist characters is not flowery prose, but a social documentation of "a party struggling with hypocrisy and rife with anti-Semitic Arabs and Arab-hating Jews, misogynists and conformists."
Michael's novel Victoria tells the triumphant story of love's redemption. In this work set in a family courtyard in Baghdad, the heroine struggles to salvage her marriage to a womanizing sailor, Raphael. Commentor Nitza Ben-Dov set the work in a larger literary context, finding that it "recalls Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary' and Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' as well as Amos Oz's 'My Michael'—novels written by men about women who are at the same time outstanding and typical, singular and archetypal." Michael writes of a woman in a patriarchal society and makes no amends for the misogynistic tendencies in the plot. As with his other novels, he allows the characters to speak their thoughts, not his. The novel has a happy end of salvation and victory, which is not achieved through moralizing or pedagogical tone. Michael provides a foil for each character. Victoria is mirrored by her childhood friend, as are all the characters in the book accentuated by their antithesis, a secondary conscience. The reader, through the comparisons, is allowed to objectively judge the decisions of the characters.
Michael's novels are inspired by his struggles with political opposition, and they almost exclusively deal with disappointment in governments and lack of political progress. Hofen shel'arafel (title means "A Handful of Mist") describes in an almost autobiographical manner the growing disillusionment of Ramsi, a Jewish communist from Baghdad. Michael's work intends to criticize existing situations, and to increase understanding between warring factions. Uni-Erlangen cites the comments of David Grossman, who, in reviewing Chatsotsra Ba'waddi (title means "A Trumpet in the Wadi"), described Michael's achievement of transgressing the boundary between "us" and "them" or "Jews" and "non-Jews," as one for Israeli literature and as a daily affirmation. Michael does not over-romanticize or stereotype the opposing social classes he interweaves in his writing. The aim is truth in representation, from which may come understanding and peace in the Middle Eastern region. In Modern Hebrew Literature, Ehud Ben Ezer summed up Michael's work as "free of bitterness, imbued with understanding and profound compassion, and this is no mean achievement, when the scene it describes with such astonishing accuracy is as painful and stormy as it is." Michael goes beyond the immediacy of the constant fighting to present a literary mirror, in which all individuals are allowed to see both their justification and their fault.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Murphy, Bruce, editor, Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia, 4th edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Kirkus Reviews, Volume 56, number 1, 1988, review of Refuge, p. 1268.
Library Journal, Volume 113, number 18, 1988, Molly Abramovitz, review of Refuge, p. 110.
Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1995, Jordan Elgraby, "Touring Poet, Playwright Promote Mideast Peace: Sami Michael and Salem Jubran Tour U.S. to Promote Peace among Jews and Arabs," p. B5.
Modern Hebrew Literature, winter, 1981, Ezhud Ben Ezer, "Refuge from Baghdad: On Sammy Michael's 'A Handful of Mist,'" pp. 40-43; fall, 1989, Rochelle Furstenberg, "Rochelle Furstenberg interviews Sammy Michael: On the Border, between Two Nations," pp. 25-26; spring-summer, 1993, "Exorcising Demons," pp. 10-11.
Publishers Weekly, Volume 234, number 13, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Refuge, pp. 58-59.
Carpe liberum,http://www.carpe.com/ (March 21, 2002), Ulrich Larger, review of Viktoryah.*