He criticized and offended – and created new perspectives for well-known problems: Abraham B. Yehoshua was one of Israel’s best-known writers.

Abraham B. Yehoshua has taken on the Jewish diaspora and the Israeli government.

The white-haired, successful author liked to provoke – and was one of the most popular Israeli writers. He died at the age of 85, as Israel’s President Izchak Herzog confirmed on Tuesday.

“His works, drawing from the image of our homeland and the treasures of our people, gave us an accurate, sharp, loving and sometimes painful self-image,” said Herzog. “He awakened in us a mosaic of deep feelings.”

He did not mince his words

Yehoshua unleashed a storm of outrage in 2006 with statements about the importance of the Jewish diaspora. Speaking to Jewish US representatives in Washington at the time, he said that Jewish identity was less pronounced abroad than in Israel. “Being Israeli is my skin, not my jacket,” Yehoshua said. He later had to apologize because many US Jews felt offended by his words.

The author was born in Jerusalem in 1936, where his Sephardic family had lived for five generations. He studied literature and philosophy at the Hebrew University there, and from 1963 to 1967 he taught in Paris. In recent years he has lived in the port city of Haifa in the north of the country, where he also taught at the university. Yehoshua was married to a psychoanalyst and had a daughter and two sons.

Yehoshua’s works have been translated into around 30 languages. Among other things, “Freundesfeuer” (2009) was published in German, in which a Jewish family has to come to terms with the death of their son after he was accidentally shot by his comrades while serving in the occupied territories. In The Bride Delivered (2003), Yehoshua describes an Israeli family rocked by a long-hidden incest case.

His great role model was William Faulkner

His novel The Five Seasons of Molcho (1989) was voted one of the ten most important books in Israel. In it, Yehoshua describes how a man slowly frees himself after his wife dies of cancer. Yehoshua has received numerous awards for his literary work, including the 1995 Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor.

In early 2017, Yehoshua was also honored with the Israeli Dan David Prize. “A notable aspect of his literary endeavor is his enduring willingness to experiment with various literary modes, including surrealistic stories, novellas, psychological realism and historical stories (…)”, the award’s citation said.

Yehoshua also repeatedly spoke out on day-to-day political issues. In 2006, for example, he called for a ceasefire during the fighting in Lebanon. A year later, along with other writers, he spoke out in favor of Israel’s negotiations with the Islamist Hamas. This was considered particularly controversial at the time because the Palestinian organization had just violently seized control of the Gaza Strip.

Yehoshua once named the US writer William Faulkner (1897-1962) as an important literary role model. “Faulkner is the greatest writer of the 20th century,” Yehoshua said in an interview. He describes himself as a “topic writer” because he jumps from topic to topic and treats one at a time in his works.

At the presentation of the Dan David Prize, Yehoshua spoke about his own talent for writing: “No one can explain what this creative power awakens in you. Where is she from?” he asked. “There’s no real explanation. When I was 17 I wanted to be a lawyer, I knew this was my calling. I also wanted to perform, argue and discuss – and suddenly this creativity came.”