When Gadi Taub had published twenty years ago his first book, a story collection titled What Would Have Happened Had We Forgotten Dov he was immediately marked by the Israel literary world as one of the most promising young writers around. Since then Taub has established himself in Israel as an original and articulated essayist and a popular op-ed columnist published both in Israeli and international press. It took him seventeen years to return to fiction but his dark and taboo breaking novel Allenby Street published in Israel in 2009 was well worth the wait.
At first, I thought the best way to introduce Gadi Taub’s powerful novel would be through its sophisticated and twist-filled plot. But the hard hitting story isn’t half as complex and unique as its protagonists.
Through the bar stools of one joint in the semi-sleazy Allenby Street, Taub introduces his readers to a hive of impressively crafted characters: strippers, bouncers, bar owners and patrons share their yearnings and their drinks in Taub’s masterfully constructed world of Dickensian variety.
The spotlight that Taub puts on those who are rarely represented in Israeli literature and media transcends the expected clichés. Taub never encourages the reader to feel sorry for his characters but rather to respect them, lust for them and even fear them. In many ways Allenby Street reminded me, in its perspective and scope, of David Simon’s television masterpiece The Wire. But Taub’s Israeli take is even more interesting because, while the American sewers and underworld were already explored in countless works of art, in the Israeli social consciousness, which is constantly overwhelmed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world of foreign workers, drunken immigrants and tough bar owners seems to be otherwise completely invisible.
One senses from the very first paragraph that Taub knows this world well. The way that the bar operates in its interactions with violent costumers, drug-using patrons and constant police raids doesn’t read as a figment of a writer’s imagination but as a very mundane and inglorious reality.
But this book is not only an exciting portal to a sweaty neglected side of the Israeli society, it is also a peephole through which one can see the paradox of Israeli society – with its crosscurrents of empathy and violence.
Photo by Inbar Zaafrani.