Adam Resurrected (Adam Ben Kelev)

views updated

ADAM RESURRECTED (Adam ben kelev)

Novel by Yoram Kaniuk, 1969

Adam Resurrected by Yoram Kaniuk, published in Hebrew in 1969 under the title Adam ben kelev ("Son of Dog") and in English translation in 1971, centers on an insane asylum populated by Holocaust survivors. The asylum, the Institute for Rehabilitation and Therapy, was founded with the donation from an American tourist convinced by the Schwester twin that a refuge for all the insane members of society in the desert—God's castle—must be established. One of these people, rejected by society, could after all be the messiah. The Israeli medical staff members fail in their aim to cure the patients until Adam (Herbert) Stein, a Holocaust survivor who is also a clown, magician, and supposed clairvoyant, appears in the institution. In the concentration camp Stein would entertain the internees, alleviating some of the terror. He amused his wife and daughter in their last moments. He also acted as a second pet dog for the head of the camp, Klein. This grotesque behavior, walking on all fours, barking, and eating out of the dog's bowl, earned him his life.

Stein identifies so strongly with his identity as a dog that he cannot accept his new life as a member of Israeli society. He not only mocks Israel and holds onto his past life as a dog, however horrific it may have been, but he also maintains a friendly relationship with Klein after the war. The institute, a high-tech hospice for various asocials, emerges as a nightmarish reflection of life in Israel. Stein discovers a dog in one of the rooms of the institute and develops an intimate relationship with it, a confidant. The dog is in fact a child who has assumed the identity of a dog and through his relationship with Stein, reverts back to his human self. Stein is the messiah for which the Schwester twin searches. He is a modern Christ who finds salvation only after rescuing the child from his own trauma; only after giving life to another may Stein recover his own life as a human. His recovery, however, does not mark the beginning of a new life. Rather, he lives a sedate and calm life as an old man. The story ends on an optimistic note tinged with hints of sadness that arise out of accepting reality, however grim it may be. As Stein states after his recovery, sanity is sad, nothing happens. He says, "I live in a beautiful, good valley, the peaks are forever gone."

Adam Resurrected deals with the Holocaust of humankind. Kaniuk purports that the Holocaust must not be viewed as an aberration or as an extraordinary event in human history but as an event that gave full expression to human existence. In discovering the inhuman aspect of all humans, the real essence of humanity may be revealed. Stein's real sickness is in his failure to recognize the advantages of being a human as opposed to a dog. He can only recover once he recognizes these benefits. It is important to note, however, that the novel ends inconclusively because humanity is not drawn as categorically superior to animality.

One may read allegorical meaning into many of the elements in Adam Resurrected— the insane asylum as the Zionist project: a large segment of the Jewish population has perished, the only people remaining are the crazy individuals who came to build the country. Walking to the desert is a return to one's roots: the attempt to rebuild the Jewish state out of its historical and biblical origins. The rich American who donates the funds for the building of the asylum mirrors American financial support of the Zionist project. These allegorical elements, however, overlook the important role that fantasy plays in the novel. Fantasy forms the main thematic element in this Holocaust novel. Often compared with Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Kaniuk's novel contains an inner logic that validates the madness that propels its plot.

Kaniuk's sentiment toward the Holocaust is summed up in Adam Resurrected. Kaniuk writes about the survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust, articulating that "the knowledge, the wisdom in knowing that they were the raw materials in the most advanced factory in Europe, under a sky in which God sits in exile, like a stranger … this knowledge makes us go insane, and so the whole country has become the biggest insane asylum on earth."

—Ziva Shavitsky