The Story of an Entangled Alliance
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From Genesis to Revelation: a well-argued study of the place of Israel in American culture.

In the zombie apocalypse, as Brad Pitt so vividly learned in the film version of World War Z, always have an Israeli soldier at your side, and preferably “a buff Israeli woman soldier who is a symbol of Israeli feminism and modernity.” Even if feminism and modernity are in retreat in the United States, it was a good match: They staved off the end of civilization and saved our unworthy souls. Since the founding of the modern state of Israel 70 years ago, writes Kaplan (English/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture, 2003, etc.), Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, have seen in that nation a reflection and confirmation of their own, a system of affinities drawing on “powerful myths about their kinship and heritage, their suffering and salvation.” The author examines how those exceptionalist myths were made, often through the medium of popular literature and film. World War Z is but one case. Six decades earlier, the legendary journalist I.F. Stone traveled to Mandate Palestine onboard a ship carrying Jewish refugees from Europe and wrote a now largely forgotten book, Underground to Palestine, which “included the major tropes of the narrative that progressive Americans told about Zionism in the years following World War II.” Those tropes also play out in Leon Uris’ novel Exodus, which, in Kaplan’s view, recapitulates some of the opening-of-the-frontier stories Americans tell about themselves. The tropes change to fit the narrative at hand: Some of the author’s cases argue that it’s the battle for land that keeps Israelis and Arabs apart, some the battle of good and evil. Much of the book is confirmation rather than eye-opener, but Kaplan’s tour of literature and film shows how common understandings of Israel and the U.S. have been shaped—and distorted, as with the Trump administration’s relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem.

A useful reading of history and politics in the light of mythmaking and media.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-674-73762-4
Page count: 350pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2018


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