J'Accuse by Aharon Shabtai

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Explosive poems by an Israeli accusing his country of crimes against humanity.

Playing on Zola's famous letter denouncing the anti-Semitism of the French government throughout the Dreyfus affair, Aharon Shabtai's title can be taken literally: it charges his government and his people with crimes against the humanity of their neighbors. Here we find snipers shooting children, spin-masters trying to whitewash blood baths, ammunition "distributed like bars of chocolate," and "technicians of slaughter" for whom morality is merely "a pain in the ass."

With a splendid lyrical physicality that accentuates Shabtai's terse immediacy and matter-of-fact scorn, the poems cover a period of six yearsfrom the 1996 election of Netanyahu as prime minister through the curfews, lynchings, riots, sieges, and bombings of the second intifada. But at the heart of J'Accuse is the fate of the ethical Hebrew culture in which the poet was raised: Shabtai refuses to abandon his belief in the moral underpinnings of Israeli society or to be silent before the barbaric and brutal. He witnesses, he protests, he warns. Above all, he holds up a mirror to his nation.

About Aharon Shabtai

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Born in 1939 and educated on a kibbutz, and at the Hebrew University, the Sorbonne, and Cambridge, Aharon Shabtai is the author of sixteen books of poetry and the greatest contemporary translator into Hebrew of Greek drama. Peter Cole's poems are collected in What Is Doubled: Poems 1981-1998. His books include The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492; Things on Which I've Stumbled; and Hebrew Writers on Writing. His many honors include the PEN Translation Prize and in 2007 he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.
Published April 1, 2003 by New Directions. 80 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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While there are occasional glimmerings of personal struggle here—"O my country, my country,/ with each sandal,/ with each thread / of my khaki pants, / I've loved you"—for the most part, the book is a relentless polemic, elegizing innocent Palestinians and demonizing Israeli soldiers: "Idiotic so...

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