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Book Review: Uncle Peretz Takes Off

Shabtai, Yaakov. http://www.ithl.org.il/author_info.asp?id=228 (2004). Uncle Peretz takes off: short stories.  Woodstock New York London, Overlook Duckworth.

The fourteen short stories in this collection by Shabtai, a master of modern Israeli literature, is set in Tel Aviv in the 40’s and is told from the point of view of a young man who is 13 at the time of the first story.  The stories are about personal experiences as well as the people in his life, from his family members to neighbors.  

In the very first story Adoshem, the narrator becomes Bar Mitzbah, is subjected to a bizarre experience involving a girl and sexuality, and loses his grandfather.  

In the second story Model, a young female neighbor in her late twenties is found dead in the street. 

In the third True Tenderness, the narrator is chronologically a lot older and tells the story of a neighbor who loses her husband, remarries twice, divorcing both times.  

Uncle Shmuel, the fourth story, talks about the life and death of an uncle, other characters being various family members such as his wife, children, and brothers including the narrator’s father.  

A Marriage Proposal tells the story of how the narrator’s grandmother, a widow, turned down a suitor at an advanced age.

Cordoba is about the narrator’s encounter with a young American girl while on a trip to Spain. 

The Voyage to Mauritius is about Chaim Baruch who doesn’t seem to be related to the narrator at all.  Chaim Baruch is a German Jew who escapes Germany with his family and travels by ship to Israel only to be shipped further onward by the British to Mauritius.  He later becomes blind and is returned to Israel.  

Uncle Peretz Takes Off is about an uncle who is not really an uncle, who is caught between his marriage and his extramarital interest, unable to leave his wife in order to consummate his true love for another woman. 

Departure is about the narrator’s grandmother’s death.

The Czech Tea Service tells the story of how the narrator accidentally breaks his father’s prized possession and is punished for it. 

Many of the stories focus on death and sexuality, the ups and downs of life, and the difficulties of carving out a life in a new land.  The adult content calls for a mature audience, anywhere from 10th grade and up, although the vocabulary is accessible to younger students.   Jewish students may be particularly attracted to this type of literature but a student of any background should be able to appreciate it as long as some basic knowledge of Jewish culture is provided.