Shaḥam, Nathan

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SHAḤAM, NATHAN (1925– ), Hebrew writer, son of Eliezer *Steinman and brother of writer David Shaḥam. Born in Tel Aviv, Shaḥam served in the *Palmaḥ and on the southern front during the *War of Independence and later joined kibbutz Bet Alfa. He began publishing in 1944 and wrote fiction, plays, and stories for children. Shaḥam served as Israel's cultural attaché in New York (1977–80) and was vice chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and chief editor of Sifriat Po'alim Publishing House. Many of his works, written in a traditional realistic style, were fueled by an unmistakable ideological concern, dealing with crucial issues of Israeli life, such as war, kibbutz life, immigration and, not least, disillusionment. His early novel Even al Pi ha-Be'er (1956) presents the committed pioneer, Eliyahu Weisman. Young, engaged Palmaḥ members are depicted in Dagan ve-Oferet (1948), Ha-Elim Aẓelim (1949), and Tamid Anaḥnu (1952). Shikkun Vatikim (1958) deals with the norms and life-style of the kibbutz while Ḥokhmat ha-Misken (1960) describes the immigration of the Polish, previously Communist Jews to Palestine. The world of the German-Jewish immigrants, the so-called Yekkes, is depicted in Guf Rishon Rabbim (1968), whereas the charms of Europe prevail in Halokh va-Shov (1972). Other works include the plays Hem Yaggi'u Maḥar (1949); Kera Li Siomka (1950); and Yoḥanan bar Ḥama (1952), and novels such as Eẓem el Aẓmo (1981; Bone to the Bone, 1993), Sidrah (1992), and Lev Tel Aviv (1996). No doubt one of Shaḥam's finest works is the novel Revi'iyat Rosendorf (1987; The Rosendorf Quartet, 1991; German, 1990), the portrait of four members of a string quartet in pre-state Israel. Only one of them, Friedman, feels committed to the Zionist project and in fact suffers from guilt feelings for not being a good enough pioneer. The others feel alienated, strangers in a place supposed to be their home. Moreover, viola-player Eva von Staubenfeld hates the country, which, in her opinion, is nothing but a place of exile: She criticizes the ugliness of the place and the petit bourgeois mentality. The fifth figure in the novel, observer of and loyal listener to the quartet as well as the narrator of its story, is the German writer Egon Loewenthal, who reflects upon the difficulties of writing in a new language, so different from his mother-tongue, and provides the reader with a kind of "diary of exile." For Nathan Shaḥam, himself a viola player, music becomes a complex metaphor for a universal language which rejects nationalism and transcends the pettiness of mundane life. In a subsequent novel, Ẓilo shel Rosendrof (2001), Shaḥam sends his protagonist to Germany to find out what has happened to the musicians and to the narrator. Pa'amon be-Kijongdzu ("A Bell in Ch'ongiu," 2005) is Joseph Schneider's belated confrontation with his harrowing experiences as a passenger of a plane hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, in which Shaḥam reflects on moral and political issues. Shaḥam received the Bilaik Prize and the American National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His story "Coming Home" is included in James A. Michener (ed.), Firstfruits (1973), "Speak to the Wind" in G. Abramson (ed.), The Oxford Book of Hebrew Short Stories (1996). For further information concering translations, see the ITHL website at


P. Lander, in: Moznayim, 45 (1977), 53–9; E. Pinhus, "History in a Life: Shaham's 'Thin Partitions'," in: Modern Hebrew Literature: 5:1–2 (1979), 78–80; N.H. Toker, "Setavim Yerukim ve-Aforim be-Sippurei N. Shaham," in: Moznayim, 50:3 (180), 215–9; M. Gilboa, "Amerikah ke-Makom," in: Migvan (1988), 113–26; A. Feinberg, "Exil und Heimatlosigkeit. Juedische Identitaet und Zugehoerigkeit bei juedischen und israelischen Autoren," in: Hofgeismarer Protokolle, 265 (1989), 155–67; G. Shaked, Ha-Sipporet ha-Ivrit, 4 (1993), 317–47; N. Sokoloff, "Israel and America: Imagining the Other," in: The Other in Jewish Thought and History (1994), 326–52; H. Hever, "The 'Other' Will Arrive Tomorrow," in: Contemporary Theatre Review, 3:2 (1995), 91–106; Z. Shavitsky, "Nathan Shaham's Rosendorf Quartet – A Microcosm of the German Jewish Experience," in: Abr-Nahrain, 35 (1998), 135–144; R. Domb, "'Ut Pictura Poesis.' Text, Image, Identity and Ideology in Shaham's 'Series,'" in: Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures, 4:2 (2001), 179–187.

[Anat Feinberg (2nd ed.)]