The mean streets of Beersheba: the place of the city in Shulamit Lapid's Lizzie Badihi series.
We have been accustomed to associating the detective novel with the "mean streets" of the city since the hard-boiled novels of Raymond Chandler. The detective writer serves as a cartographer of sorts, the protagonist of his works becoming a flaneur according Walter Benjamin's definition--one who walks the urban streets of the city acknowledging its diverse forces and heterogenic population. In this article I examine how the city of Beersheba, the capital of the Negev, is depicted in Shulamit Lapid's Lizzie Badihi series, following Lefebvre's observation that "the spatial practice of a society is revealed through the deciphering of its space." The fact that it is both the central city in its area and a periphery town, when compared to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, gives it a hybrid character, constituting it as Homi K. Bhabha's "third space" that blurs the binary hierarchy between center and periphery. Over the period which the series spans (the first book was published in 1989 the latest in 2007), both Beersheba and Israeli society have changed and developed. I demonstrate how these changes are reflected in the series as I examine Lizzie as a figure that symbolizes Beersheba.
In her reflections On Writing, Eudora Welty observes that the "sense of place is as essential to good and honest writing as a logical mind.... It never really stops informing us, for it is forever astir, alive, changing, reflecting, like the mind of man itself. One place comprehended can make us understand other places better." (1) In applying this insight to her craft, crime writer P. D. James remarked: "it is surely the power to create this sense of place ... that gives any mystery writer the claim to be regarded as a serious novelist." (2) As a literary work becomes infused with the places it explores--places that make it what it is--story and place are frequently inextricably bound together. (3) In Lefebvre's thought, space is a social product, where cultural constructions and productions of meaning create particular spatial practices, which are also tied in with means of control. (4) My analysis is informed in part by Lefebvre's work.
We have associated the detective novel with the "mean streets" of the city since Raymond Chandler began to publish his novels in the 1930s. The detective writer serves as a cartographer of sorts, the protagonist of his works becoming a flaneur according Walter Benjamin's definition--one who walks the urban streets of the city acknowledging its diverse forces and heterogenic population. (5) This map-drawing is a form of storytelling, asking for a map being tantamount to requesting a narrative. (6) Detective fiction writers must decide which aspects of the city they wish their protagonist to explore and readers to follow. The city as the place of action is particularly important in the hardboiled American version of detective fiction, the "mean streets" therein being intimately associated with certain types of crimes and with the criminals that frequent them.
Alongside Batya Gur, the Israeli writer Shulamit Lapid was largely responsible for the new generation of Israeli detective and mystery fiction that developed in the late 1980s. (7) Earlier works in the genre, primarily intended for young readers, had been printed in the 1930s as small booklets on cheap paper. (8) When Lapid and Gur began publishing their first detective novels--in 1988 and 1989, respectively--they moved away from the classic mysteries, however, using the traditional crime form to probe and expose the divisions within Israeli society rather than cleaving to the tight geometric patterns of whodunit fiction. (9) Although both engage in detective fiction, Gur's writings are police procedurals. In contrast to Lapid's amateur detective, Lizzie Badihi, Gur's Chief Inspector Ohayon is a professional, in many points resembling P. D. James's Inspector Dalgliesh. Like Dalgliesh, Ohayon is well educated (holding an MA in Medieval History), sensitive, and introspective, applying his intellect and intuition to his cases:
Here we have a Mizrahi Jew from the lowest social strata who is cerebral and cultured--his bookcase holds such literary luminaries as Chekhov, Gogol, Flaubert, Balzac, Faulkner and Alterman, to name but a few ... enabling him to make fun of Ashkenazi arrogance and superiority. (10)
Although both detectives are Mizrahim, Lapid's Lizzie is a simple, self-made journalist working on the periphery, lacking the status of Ohayon, Deputy Head of the Investigations Division of the Jerusalem police. Another point of divergence is the milieu in which the authors' plots take place. Lapid's novels take place in Beersheba and the Negev, the only obvious link between them being the place and the detective. In Gur's case, the books in the series appear to be connected, Ohayon being called to investigate murders that occur in a closed, elite group, primarily in Jerusalem. Gur thus seems less interested in Jerusa lem as a place and more preoccupied with the institutions and social sectors in which the murders happen. As Gur noted in an interview by Ayelet Negev:
The crimes I write about take place inside decent and proper communities, because these are places where more is hidden. It is more interesting to peek inside and tear off the veil. I searched for closed, elite groups like the Psychoanalytic Institute or the Department of Hebrew Literature, that allow Michael Ohayon to examine their true norms. (11)
Gur's Mizrahi policeman does not following the usual stereotype exemplified in such Israeli movies as The Policeman (Hashoter Aznlai, 1971), Ohayon possessing the wherewithal to face the closed Ashkenazi elite as a representative of the law, his background and education enabling him to "crack" their inner codes and solve the mystery. In Lapid's case, while the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi conflict is also present (in the three early books in the series), as an individual Lizzie deals with corrupt Ashkenazim on a one-to-one basis.
Gur and Lapid have also been treated differently by Israeli critics. While Gur has received numerous accolades, Lapid's first novel garnered a number of bad reviews that virtually accused her of racism against Ashkenazim. (12) Both series have nevertheless become very popular in Israel, opening the flood gates for a whole genre. The Israeli mystery has thus now become a well-developed "novelized" form of literature, far removed from the formulaic, puzzle-oriented type of mystery. Broadening the genre and expanding its boundaries to focus on character and theme development, many Israeli mystery writers employ it as a way of reflecting the social, political, and demographic divisions within the country. (13) This new breed of detective novel thus closely correlates with the changes in contemporary Hebrew literature, touching on broad social themes and a consciousness fed by internal tensions. (14) In this sense, it forms part of the "disillusioned generation" in Israeli literature--writers who, having experienced the Yom Kippur War and change of government, began questioning the foundational messianic values behind the establishment of the Zionist state, criticizing social gaps, and baring the problematic aspects of Israeli society. (15) Lapid's detective novels are thus not just a "light" form of entertainment but also a means of "social criticism or psychological portraiture." (16)
To date, the Lizzie Badihi series consists of six novels: Mekomon (Local Press, 1989), Pitayon (Bait, 1991), Hatachshit (The Gem, 1992), Hoi ba'eynaim (Sand in Your Eyes, 1997), Pilgesh bagiv'ah (Concubine on the Hill, 2000), and Sof onat halimonim (End of the Lemon Season, 2007). (17)
THE CITY OF BEERSHEBA
The series is located in Beersheba, regarded the capital of the Negev, Israeli's southern desert area. As Lapid herself acknowledged in an interview, however, as she was never going to familiarize herself with the real city, the Beersheba of the novels is an imaginary one. (18) Writing about a certain city does not necessitate its precise mirroring: "Crime narratives ... are not only concerned with authentic representation of the city and the exposure of its secrets but also with the possibility of reconstructing, remapping and, hence, recreating the city." (19) Hence, although Lapid is speaking about a concrete city, she refers to very few specific sites, even inventing some of the settlements outside the city (Giv'at Benyamin and Tel Binyamin in Concubine on the Hill, for example).
A well-known biblical site (Gen 21:27-33, 26:18-33) in which archaeological remains still exist, Beersheba continued to be populated through the Roman and Byzantine periods. In the modern era, the Ottoman government resettled it, giving it the status of a city in 1906. Before 1948, it had approximately 6,000 residents, most of whom fled during the War of Independence. (20) After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, it witnessed a period of growth, a new city being established near the old Turkish site in 1950. By 1955, two thirds of its inhabitants were Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews who had immigrated from Arab countries. (21) The second and third waves of immigration of the 1990s brought a new set of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. These created a new social reality associated with globalization--a process that sheds light on the state as a whole and the city in particular. (22) They also changed Beersheba's demographic fabric, reducing the city's Mizrahi populace to a mere 40%. (23)
Soroka Hospital opened in 1960, the University of the Negev--now Ben-Gurion University of the Negev--being founded in 1969. (24) Eventually, the Old City was turned into a city center replete with shops, restaurants, offices, and an industrial center in what is known as Sarah's Valley on its southern perimeter. While this was originally populated by small factories, it has now been given life by an influx of high-tech companies. (25) Although the capital of the Negev and seeking to become Israel's fourth metropolis, Beersheba is considered peripheral from the perspective of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem due to its location in the south of the country.
Orna Blumen argues that "The distinction between the center and periphery lies in the social division of the space--a disjuncture that is hierarchical, material, or symbolic (or all three)." (26) Herein, she follows Said's hierarchical division between West (the center/high culture) and East (the periphery/low culture), the center conceiving of itself as superior to the periphery. (27) As this binary split is not always absolute, however, and the two entities frequently slip into each other, Bhabha thus coined the term "third space" in order to indicate how or where hierarchy loses its force due to the blurring of the boundaries. This new space blends (parts of) the center and periphery together. (28) As Daphna Levine notes, it is "marked by a fluidity and lability that reveals how the center as a whole as is composed of the periphery or how on certain occasions the periphery becomes the cultural center." (29)
The fact that Beersheba is both the central city in the area and a periphery town in the state gives it a hybrid character--it is a "third space" that, blurring the binary hierarchy between center and periphery, constitutes the "discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure that the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity; that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized, and read anew." (30) The third space can, of course, menace the center by its very existence. As Pnina Motzafi-Haller observes: "The ambivalence attached to the 'third space' poses a threat to the orderly and coherent representation of the hegemonic system of knowledge. The center seeks to define the powerless as 'Others' by enforcing rigidity and one-dimensionality." (31) By its very nature, the third space possesses a measure of independence that rebels against the hegemony of the center.
As a peripheral cultural center, Beersheba possesses a unique ambience, hosting a colorful populace comprised of old and new immigrants from diverse countries, Mizrahim, Ashkenazim, sabras (native Israelis), Bedouin, rich upper classes, and those from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. It thus offers an alternative to the cosmopolitism of Tel Aviv and the religious aura of Jerusalem. (32) The choice of Beersheba due to its third-space character affords a fertile opportunity for addressing Israeli society and its conflicts. In fact, as a country Israel is in itself a hybrid blend of West and East:
Israel is Western in self-image, orientation and ties, science and technology, higher education, market economy, procedural democracy, and Protestant ethic. But it is not Western in the absence of permanent borders, blurred criteria of membership in society, high natural increase, centrality of family, focal position of the military, state intervention in the economy, non-high standard of living, strong role of religion in public life, lack of robustness of the law, weaknesses of democracy, and salience of ethno-nationalism. (33)
Israel as whole may thus be regarded as a "third space," combining characteristics of both East and West and thus constituting an archetype of "ethnic democracy." (34) In this context, Beersheba serves as a "microcosm of Israeli society, and the story of the interethnic relations in the town can be regarded as a test case for the integration of immigrants from Islamic countries in various aspects of Israeli society, especially public life." (35) The hybridity of the third space allows Israeli society to be presented in miniature, reflecting features of the center and periphery alike. The city of Beersheba thus functions as an excellent vehicle for demonstrating the changes and developments occurring in Israeli society--in particular, the social and cultural transformations it has undergone.
Over the period Lapid's series spans, both Beersheba and Israeli society have changed and developed. The late 1980s were a time of great cultural, economic, and political change, the elections of 1977 bringing the Likud party to power for the first time and deposing the Labor Party that had ruled since the establishment of the state. As Menachem Mautner observes:
In the brief course of one or two generations ... the hegemonic group underwent a signification transformation in its perception of its identity and its constitutive cultural foundations from faith in socialism and far-reaching state involvement in the economy to a neo-liberal belief in capitalism, the free market, and "small" government; from cherishing the collectivist values of contribution and sacrifice to endorsing individualism, self-realization and hedonism; from seeing themselves as Hebrews estranged from the contents of exilic Jewish culture to seeing themselves as Jews seeking acquaintance with these very contents. (36)
Herein, its Eurocentric outlook has become more Americanized, combining individualism and a capitalistic economic system with a colorful multiculturalism. (37) The social and physical changes Beersheba has witnessed form prominent themes in Lapid's novels. The crimes that take place in the Badihi series are first and foremost economic in nature. As the series progresses, the themes become increasingly local(ized). In the first, Judge Hornshtik kills his wife in order to prevent her from divorcing him and taking all their money (the money, it transpires, being his original rationale for the marriage). This act could have happened anywhere, only by chance taking place in Omer, a satellite city of Beersheba with a high socioeconomic status. In the latest volume, however, the murder, which also takes place in Omer, results from the embezzlement of bank clients in order to gain funds to invest in a new building project in Ir Habahadim (City of Training Bases). Slowly but surely, economic factors thus take on a local hue.
Economic changes are also illustrated in the depiction of Lizzie's uncles' shop. At the beginning of the series, this appears to be located in the old commercial center of the town close to the central bus station. As the volumes progress, however, its site deteriorates, and in the latest volume Lizzie seeks to convince her uncles to accept an offer for a new shop in the new central station:
You should accept Zizyashvili's offer and close the shop ... I've spoken with him. In the new station there are going to be escalators and modern lightning and everything will be new and beautiful and you'll get a shop for your shop. If you stay in the old station the police will remove you eventually. And anyhow, you don't have any customers there now. (End of the Lemon Season, 117-18)
Although Lizzie is aware that the changes will take time she also understands that progress cannot be stopped and should thus be embraced. Her aunt recognizes this as well, and observes, "It's for the development of Beersheba, Yaakov. You were always in favor of Beersheba developing. Sometimes a little bird can help a hippo. That's our part, Yaakov--to be the little bird in the hippo's ear" (118). While economic development starts with individuals, however, major projects also frequently come at the expense of small businesses. Thus, for example, Sargon, the factory in which Lizzie's mother works, is closed in order to make room for a new "free industrial zone":
The development of a free industrial zone was the most important economic revolution in Beersheba since Stef Wertheimer established his industrial park. FIZ (Free Industrial Zone) was the incarnation of the vision of a new Middle East. Entrepreneurs from around the world who establish high-end industries here will be exempt from all the possible and impossible taxes imposed on entrepreneurs elsewhere in the country. (Sand in Your Eyes, 21-22)
Here we see how the Israeli socioeconomics are beginning to move away from a socialist focus on "small workers" towards a capitalistic world in which the workers no longer matter, the prosperous land owners opting for projects designed to promote the city's long-term prosperity. The balance of power between the elite Ashkenazi society--Jews from Europe--and Mizrahi Jews from Arab states also shifts in the series, reflecting developments in Israeli society. Some critics argue that Lapid employs the detective paradigm in order to indict the corrupt Ashkenazi establishment, even turning it into to "a lampoon of hate against the traditional Israeli Ashkenazi elite." (38) This view is linked with the contention that the series (as represented by the first volume, Local Press) fails to connect the murder investigation with the political background. (39) Others, however, maintain that Lapid's narrative goal is to demonstrate the "depths of depravity to which the rich and powerful Ashkenazim have sunk." (40)
These differing views of the series are reflected in the divergent ways in which literary critics have interpreted the scene in which Lizzie loses her virginity with Judge Hornshtik. A reading that accuses Lapid of unwarranted and preemptive criticism of the Ashkenazi elite understands this event as nonconsensual intercourse symbolizing the "fucking of the Mizrahi by the Ashkenazi establishment," thus compounding Hornshtik's crimes. Another reading that accepts Lapid's critique of Israeli society suggests that while the judge uses Lizzie as his alibi, Lizzie does not regard their coupling as rape, as she makes clear to her brother-in-law Benzi at the end of the book (173). (41) Likewise, she is aware of the situation as it unfolds, willingly cooperating with Hornshtik and laughing together with him. Rather than abused, "she felt big, and good and strong" (12). Although the corrupt Hornshtik symbolizes hegemonic Ashkenazi society, as a sexual partner he is first and foremost "battered and tired" (11).
As Lapid's series has progressed, the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide has become increasingly blurred. While in the first three books Lapid appears to attack the Ashkenazi elite, exposing their corruption (the Hornshtiks in Local Press, Avner Rosen and the Simon family in Bait, and Judi Bismut and the Bloomas family in The Gem), the latest three address new dichotomies--rich versus poor, corrupt versus honest, exploiters versus exploited. This shift reflects Lapid's move in time, in pace with the cultural revolution Israel has experienced between the publication of the first and fourth novels and the increasingly multicultural character it has begun to exhibit. In this milieu, the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide fades in importance. Although it has not yet completely dissipated, the gap between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi groups in Israel has begun to shrink, as Momi Dahan observes:
When we look at the gaps between Sepharadim and Ashkenazim, we see that many of the gaps have closed ... The only area in which we did not see this narrowing, until the mid-90s, was in income rates ... The same was true for education ... But since the mid-90s, we see a significant narrowing of both these factors. (42)
In some areas, particularly cultural, the disparity has almost completely vanished:
On the eve of the New Year 2016, Israeli society can clap itself on the back where it comes to pluralism and the expressions of racism that it has eradicated over the years. Thus, for example, while the conflict between Ashkenazim and Sephardim are escalating in the corridors of the Knesset [the Israeli parliament], on the ground the divisions are disappearing. (43)
The changes reflected in Lapid's books thus confirm studies of Israeli society.
LIZZIE AS A SYMBOL FOR BEERSHEBA
In a television interview after the publication of the latest volume in the series, Lapid spoke about her reasons for locating the series in Beersheba:
I chose Beersheba because I didn't want to create it in Tel Aviv. First of all, because the center's not very interesting. I think it's boring.... Because she [Lizzie] is a journalist, and the center of journalism is in Tel Aviv, the media center is in Tel Aviv, I didn't want to "plant" her in this milieu so as to gain another perspective on the center as well, not only the periphery. She doesn't just come from the periphery, she also gives us another way of looking at the center. So it served a lot of purposes, Beersheba. (44)
Throughout the series, the city and protagonist are consistently contrasted with Tel Aviv. In Sand in Your Eyes, Lapid paraphrases Shaul Tchernichovsky's well-known dictum: "Man is nothing but the image of his native landscape" in asserting that Lizzie "was born in Beersheba and the Negev is the image of her native land" (22) (45) Thus, she identifies her protagonist with the city and desert region. In line with its colorful multiculturalism, she is a type of hybrid: "If there is a female stereotype in female-centered fiction, Lizzie Badihi shatters it." (46) Tall with big but unattractive breasts, she has very big feet she calls her "flippers." Her hair is cut short and wardrobe means little to her; most of the time, she sports a pair of jeans and t-shirt, an oily lipstick and her trade-mark big plastic loop earrings.
As the series progresses, she gradually comes to terms with her body and feminine aspects. Losing her virginity in Local Press in an impassive and emotionless act with Judge Hornshtik, she subsequently takes several lovers. Unlike her more traditional mother (a single mother who at the beginning of the series works in a factory, later becoming a nanny) and two married sisters (hospital nurses), Lizzie represents the new Mizrahi woman who puts career before family:
She was an autonomous entity who operated in line with her own needs and desires, and the idea that someone dared to go against her wishes, invade the boundaries she placed around herself, was intolerable. The institution of marriage suddenly seemed to her a mutation of nature--robbing women of their freedom and infringing on their dignity. (Bait, 74-75) (47)
Studying Oriental Studies at the University of Beersheba, she almost completes her BA, being financially independent--and proud of it--from the day she finishes her compulsory military service. A professional journalist, she writes and edits the local magazine Hazman darom (The Southern Times), a local edition of the national paper Hazman (The Times). The latter's editorial headquarters are in Tel Aviv, from where the chief editor, Arieli, constantly threatens to send a replacement for her. As Lapid noted in an interview:
I wanted to create a character who wouldn't stay at home, with an empty refrigerator, unconcerned about clothes, without a washing machine ... an outdoor person who deals with the world outside ... Maybe in contrast to the hedonism with which society is infused. (48)
The symbol of this social hedonism is Tel Aviv, a "city that never sleeps." In contrast to the political (and religious) capital of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is frequently referred to in Israeli society as "the state of Tel Aviv." (49)
The change and development Lizzie undergoes between the first three novels and the later books mirrors Beersheba's transformation from provincial backwater to high-tech and cultural center at the end of the twentieth century. Ab/used by Judge Hornshtik in Local Press, she then takes Archimedes Levi for a lover--an older man who "trains" her in sexual arts. In Bait, forced to put Avner Rosen up in her apartment, she is seduced (and almost murdered) by him. In The Gem, however, she rebuffs Eran Fischer's overtures, thenceforth choosing her own beau--the Tel Avivian Roni Meltzer (Sand in Your Eyes) who takes her abroad (Concubine on the Hill) and young Roy Kellerman, with whom she has a purely sexual relationship (End of the Lemon Season). As the series progresses, Lizzie thus appears to mature sexually, becoming more assured in her decision to stay single and independent--just as Beersheba is beginning to assert its cultural independence and overcome its image as a backwoods town ("What's the best place in Beersheba? The road to Tel Aviv"). (50)
The paper for which Lizzie works also symbolizes the relations between Beersheba and Tel Aviv. When Arieli threatens to send a "meteoric" journalist Doron Tzement from head office to Beersheba, Lizzie tells him:
Tzement will raise the hackles of the local police ... they won't cooperate with him ... If you drop him from the metropolis into the middle of the province it'll take him a month before he becomes familiar with the people and another before he understands that no one will talk to him. (Local Press, 20)
As the series progresses, Arieli gradually begins paying Lizzie more respect. In The Gem he scarcely notices her, asking at the end of a meeting:
"You want to come to Tel Aviv for a month?"
"To take in some new journalism."
"After ten years on the paper you want me to take a journalism course? Ten years I've been writing Hazman darom on my own, from first word to last. Two competing newspapers have started in Beersheba because of its success. Our circulation has doubled over the past five years. And all that time I've not heard a word of appreciation from you. Thank you, Mr. Arieli, thank you!"
Lizzie got up and pushed her chair, which fell noisily on the floor, leaving the room without bothering to pick it up. (114)
Arieli displays a condescending attitude towards Lizzie, implying that she is unfamiliar with Tzement's "new journalism" style, her articles "sticking to dry facts." Tzement's attitude to journalism is depicted as reflecting the colorful life of Tel Aviv, Lizzie's more laconic and factual writing symbolizing Beersheba as the dry Negev's capital.
In End of the Lemon Season, however, Lizzie asks for a meeting with Arieli in order to inform him about bribes that Maurice Dahan, a colleague at the newspaper, was taking. While still calling her "stupid" at one point, Arieli now has far more appreciation of her skills:
"You're not as stupid as you look, Lizzie Badihi."
Lizzie opened her mouth and closed it again. Arieli laughed again. "Yes, they told me you get upset when you're told that. Well, I was just joking. Take a week's vacation. I'm sending Doron Tzement to take your place."
"Why?! There's no need! I'm functioning!"
"Don't argue with me."
"I need the work, Mr. Arieli."
"You need rest. You look like hell."
"The editorial board needs me!"
"You're suspended for a week. End of discussion. That's it, off with you. I've lost all day because of you." (129)
Although this appears to be yet another threat to bring in Tzement--"his way of waving a sword over her head"--Arieli is in fact concerned for Lizzie. Not only does he laugh rather than yell at her, but also the secretary who sees her coming from his office observes: "It's not every day a provincial reporter sits for three hours with the editor" (130). In contrast to Batya Gur's detective--a Mizrahi male who works in Jerusalem as a professional detective, Lapid chooses an amateur female Mizrahi figure woman from the periphery as her protagonist. This widens the framework of the Beersheba-Tel Aviv dichotomy even further--as reflected in her relationship with her editor, Arieli--to center male versus peripheral female. Arieli attempts to dominate Lizzie as a peripheral Mizrahi woman, but as the series develops she increasingly comes to represent a "third space," symbolizing a hybridity that, making her more independent, gains his respect. In the context of feminist thinking--in particular transgendered hybridity--Lizzie clearly constitutes a third-space character. Even her appearance--big, manly feet and a large body yet still attractive, traditional yet modern with a career (a facet particularly evident in her dealings with Arieli)--reflects this. (51)
"Outsiders" from Tel Aviv threaten other characters in the books. In Sand in Your Eyes, outsider Roni Meltzer is foisted on the local police force. This being the first novel to depict the new Beersheba, this act clearly riles the city's law enforcers:
Everyone in the station knew that Roni Meltzer was the General Inspector's protege, none of the local force liking the idea that as provincials they were in need of any help from someone who had failed in the metropolis. Beersheba was not Chelm or Devil's Island. It had a population of 170,000, a university and theatre, a football team in the premier league, eighteen chess masters, 2,500 highly motivated cops, the beginnings of organized crime run by FSU immigrants and Bedouin that smuggled cars into the Palestinian Authority, and a district commander touted to become the next General Inspector. (77) (52)
Beershebans take pride in their city, regarding it as a cultural center on a par with others. While putting itself on the cultural map with its theater and symphony orchestra and high-tech industry, however, the city has drawn criticism for attracting nonlocals to work in there while they live elsewhere. The developments it has witnessed, so some argue, are Eurocentric, ignoring the local Levantine culture. (53) Despite making its mark on the country, many of its sociocultural problems remain unresolved, and thus it maintains its peripheral status.
Here, too, Lizzie is representative of the city. Pondering her position in End of the Lemon Season, she compares herself with Olga's mother--a traditional Russian wife whose principal goal, like her own mother's, is to feed everyone:
If those mothers had received a big inheritance and been given an easy life, they wouldn't have known what to with themselves.... Coldly calculating, she was more like Olga's mother than Olga was. The paper was her kitchen. She would go to the other side of the city to obtain the ingredients she needed. And in something resembling happiness she would stay up cooking all night long in order to publish the dish called Hazman darom. (231)
Although modern and independent, Lizzie's metaphorical world remains traditional, reflecting Beersheba's traditional heart despite its high-tech, modern industry, thereby paralleling Lizzie as a hybrid entity.
THE LANDSCAPE OR BEERSHEBA IN THE NOVELS
Lapid depicts Beersheba in realistic colors. Lizzie's job allows her to walk its streets, absorbing their flavor, in a literary illustration of Benjamin's journalist flaneur:
The social base of flanerie is journalism.... The journalist, as flaneur, behaves as if he too were aware of this. The number of work hours socially necessary for the production of his particular working energy is, in fact, relatively high; insofar as he makes it his business to let his hours of leisure on the boulevard appear as part of this work time, he multiplies the latter and thereby the value of his own labor. (54)
The flaneur is also a detective, however:
Preformed in the figure of the flaneur, is that of the detective. The flaneur required a social legitimation of his habitus. It suited him very well to see his indolence presented as a plausible front, behind which, in reality, hides the riveted attention of an observer who will not let the unsuspecting malefactor out of his sight. (55)
Benjamin says of his flaneur: "No matter what trail the flaneur may follow, every one of them will lead him to a crime." (56) As Tom McDonough notes, this statement may be understood in two senses. According to one, he is a detective "tracking down the transgressions committed in the metropolis"; according to the other, he is a criminal, his wanderings through the city streets being "criminal acts, inevitably leading him into crime." (57) Just as the flaneur is simultaneously detective and criminal, so Lizzie also doubles as both. As detective, she seeks to solve the crimes by helping the police; as journalist, she interferes with police work, her policeman brother-in-law cautioning her throughout the series not to meddle in his investigations.
Lizzie and Benjamin's flaneur also differ prominently with respect to the nature of the crimes they investigate. Those which Benjamin's flaneur-detective address generally occur in the metropolis, through which he wanders incognito. In Beersheba, a mid-size city, however, Lizzie is well known and does not possess the flaneur's anonymity.
While the murders that take place in the novels occur in and around Beersheba and are connected to its heart, they are rarely committed in the city itself. In three (Local Press; Bait; End of the Lemon Season), they transpire in Omer, one of its wealthy suburbs. In two, while in the city, they happen in isolated places--Gesundheit, a local pension that "stands in a big yard, fenced by a wall of palm trees that kept the city's racket and the toxic fumes of the cars passing on the highway at bay" (The Gem, 6), and Sarah's Valley, the old industrial zone (Sand in Your Eyes). In Concubine on the Hill, two of the murders take place in Beersheba (one of the Hasson brothers and the homeless Tuher Tuher) and two in other places--Dina Bamberg's in Tel Binyamin and Uzi Nedava's in Switzerland. With the exception of the Swiss location, however, all the places described lie within Beersheba's environs, reflecting the local population of Bedouin, moshavniks, university professors, and so on.
Significantly, both the first murder in the first book and that in the latest volume occur in Omer, one of several satellite settlements around Beersheba. During the 1960s and 1970s, much of the "older" Ashkenazi population moved from Beersheba to Omer, leaving the city inundated by a poorer population. (58) In the following two decades, Omer witnessed a further wave of rich non-Ashkenazi migration, particularly in what is known as Parsley Hill. (59) This fact is reflected in Lapid's novels, the first murder taking place within the rich Ashkenazi elite in Omer, the last being that of Dahan, a Mizrahi murdered in his house in the settlement. As many of this group have family and relatives in the established neighbourhoods, no tension exists between the affluent and poor districts as is the case in other Israeli cities. (60)
The principal subject in the final three novels is Beersheba's development, the murders that occur within them being intricately linked to the soil and landscape of the Negev. Sand in Your Eyes underscores the dryness of the region, the novel taking place during a huge sand storm that, while typical of the area, was nonetheless unusual: "The weatherman who was interviewed on the radio said that such a storm hadn't visited the Negev for over 30 years" (5). The plot revolves around the development of the industrial area in Sarah's Valley. The land belongs to members of the Tarshish family, some of whom are unwilling to sell, leading to the murder and its investigation. As the sand storm fades and the sand piles are cleared, more and more family secrets are revealed, enabling Lizzie to solve the mystery. The quarrel over land and its use is thus associated with ancient family feuds.
In Concubine on the Hill, the dispute over land relates to the airport and tourist and trade center planned for Sedei Teyman. The book also takes place during the local mayoral elections, one of the nominees playing a major role in the plot. By this time, Lizzie is not only spending more and more time in Tel Aviv with Roni but also goes with him to Switzerland. Here, the cultural comparison drawn between Beersheba and Tel Aviv in the previous books is replaced by an environmental and ecological comparison between Beersheba and Silvaplana--the dry Negev versus the green, luscious Swiss town. Lizzie nonetheless still embodies the contrast:
In her city, they dug a hole for each new shrub or tree planted, bringing good earth from afar, and put them in drippers, as though babies in incubators who needed their fingers held so that they could survive the heat and dryness, dust and sand storms, and year-round aridity. And here! ... Lizzie who was born on the edge of the desert city and had lived there all her life, became drunk on the green and abundantly flowing water. She was happy in a way she didn't even know existed--a happiness that fills the body, pouring through the eyes green smells, crisp, fresh air, mountain silence, cloud shadows mirrored deep in the lake that slept calmly like a baby in the bosom of the mountains, the trickling sound of the brook, and the taste of the spring's cool water. (208)
Although Lizzie is happy outside Beersheba on vacation with her boyfriend, she is nevertheless still working, the peace and quiet soon to be disrupted by a murder. The comparison between the two locations underscores Beersheba's centrality for Lizzie and the novel and series as a whole. While in the last book to date, End of the Lemon Season, the murder takes place in Omer, the plot once again revolves around construction projects in Beersheba and the Negev. The embezzlement that leads to the murder derives from Maurice Dahan's greed for money to invest in Ir Habahadim, the straw breaking the camel's back being his attempt to "squeeze" Yocheved Kellerman for more funds to invest in the huge new military base.
In the last three books in the series, Beersheba and its environs thus become more central as the plot becomes increasingly local(ized). As Lizzie notes in the first in relation to Judge Hornshtik: "And Hornshtik, well everybody knew that if Hornshtik wanted, he could have lived in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and if his career stalled, it was simply because he chose--yes, chose--to live here" (Local Press, 8). Although Hornshtik chooses to live and work in the Negev area, he could have lived anywhere, the location being similarly random in Bait and The Gem. As the series proceeds, local space becomes ever more central, the landscape and inhabitants assuming increasingly important roles--sand and soil in Sand in Your Eyes, hills and property, Jews and Bedouin, in Concubine on the Hill, and construction and development, the mayor and prosperity of the Negev and its residents in End of the Lemon Season.
The city of Beersheba plays a major role in Lapid's Lizzie Badihi series. All the novels are set in the city and Negev region, Beersheba's status as the capital of the region on the one hand and its peripheral state on the other constituting prominent features of the plot. Beersheba thus represents the Bhabhan third space that is neither center nor periphery, rebelling against its position in relation to the ruling center. Lapid's novels reflect the city's hybridity by contrasting it with Tel Aviv--the large, central metropolis that houses the headquarters of the paper for which Lizzie writes. A vibrant, contemporary city, it is represented by and represents the "new journalism" whose colorfulness almost reaches "yellow" proportions and is diametrically opposed to Lizzie's style of writing. Despite its antithesis to Tel Aviv, however, Beersheba possesses its own effervescence, no longer being the dry, arid desert--which Lizzie's dull, prosaic writing reflects--but Lizzie herself, with all her variegations.
Uniting the journalist and the detective as a flaneur, Lizzie symbolizes Beersheba--both traditional and modern, always on the move. Her stand against the Tel Aviv editor who, as the series progresses, comes to appreciate her journalistic and personal abilities, represents Beersheba's changing position vis-a-vis Tel Aviv. The spatial stance relates to both the physical and human environment, the spatial practice of a society being revealed through the deciphering of its space. (61) Lapid's novels reflect Beersheba's electic and colorful populace--rich and poor, immigrants and veterans, Jews and Bedouin, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. The third space that intersects the center and periphery becomes more and more prominent as the series progresses. The changes the city witnesses--the regional development, cultural consolidation, and growth of independence--all contribute to its distinctiveness and evolution across the volumes. Beersheba thus embodies a vigorous, lively third space that increasingly establishes itself in distinction from the center.
While in the first three novels Beersheba and the Negev are incidental to the plot, the murders equally plausibly taking place elsewhere because tied to more global issues (especially interfamilial financial disputes), in the later ones the location is central to the storyline. This circumstance reflects the socio-cultural development Beersheba has undergone in recent years.
Thus, for example, Lapid presents the demographic changes that occurred in the city in the wake of the second wave of FSU immigration in the 1990s, which completely altered its social fabric. While in the first three volumes the contrast lies between the Ashkenazi elite (Judge Hornshtik in Local Press, the Simon family in Bait, and the Levitt family in The Gem) and the simple Mizrahim symbolized by Lizzie's family, in the later ones this disappears, the antithesis between "goodies" and "baddies" becoming a function of socioeconomic status rather than origin. Rather than a local change, however, this also reflects the processes taking place in Israeli society as a whole as over the years it has becomc both more multicultural and capitalistic.
Lapid nonetheless carefully avoids political disputes. Although she gives a comic description of the demonstrations against Israel's occupation of the territories (Local Press, 34, 94) or relates to missiles fired at the country during the first Gulf War (Bait), she never refers to events that have altered the political atmosphere in Israel, such as the signing of the Oslo Accords (1993, 1995) or the murder of Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin (1995). Lapid may seek to refrain from taking a clearly political stance in relation to controversial subjects, this motive possibly lying behind her decision in the last three novels to focus more closely on local affairs. Ultimately, the overt and covert criticism embodied in the series as a whole is more social than political.
Another question that arises from the positioning of the city as a third space relates to whether the series can be read without references to Israeli reality--as a symbol of any type of third space--or without a familiarity with the Israeli setting. The answer is equivocal in either case. The fact that Lapid does not address concrete political events may suggest that she intends to create a generic atmosphere, Beersheba representing a symbolic, universal, and global form of third space. The hybridity that comprises its third-spaceness deriving inter alia from the city's physical location in the Israeli desert and its distinctive social fabric, however, its very existence as a third space is thus a function of its status as a "peripheral center"--that is, a central city (the capital of the Negev) on the periphery. The novels therefore cannot be dissociated from Israeli reality. Second, while Israeli readers undoubtedly recognize the socioeconomic developments reflected in the novels, non-Israeli readers can easily follow the plot without needing to understand the ideological dimensions of the story, using the novels to learn about the country's geographical and socioeconomic landscape. This fact is confirmed by the translation of a number of the volumes into various languages, including German, Italian, French, and Chinese. (62)
(1.) Welty, On Writing, 54.
(2.) James, "In Mystery Fiction, Rooms Furnished One Clue at a Time."
(3.) Tally, Spatiality, 51.
(4.) Lefebvre, The Production of Space.
(5.) McDonough, "The Crimes of the Flaneur," 101-22.
(6.) Turchi, Maps of the Imagination, 11.
(7.) Furstenberg, "Suspense Novels," 3.
(8.) Shamir, "Habalash Ha'ivri Makeh Shenit," 5; Shavit and Shavit, "Le-toldot 'si-pur ha-pesha' ha-ivri," 30-72.
(9.) Furstenberg, "Suspense Novels," 3.
(10.) Abramovich, Back to the Future, 206.
(11.) Ayelet Negev, Sichot Intimiyot, 281.
(12.) Miron, "Komriya be-yisrael."
(13.) On the novelized form of the Israeli mystery, see Berg, "Oleh Hadash (New Immigrant): The Case of the Israeli Mystery," 281. On the broadening of the mystery genre, see Demko, "Israeli Mysteries."
(14.) Abramovich, Back to the Future, 204.
(15.) Oren, "A Brief History of Israeli Literature."
(16.) Furstenberg, "The New Wave of Israeli Detectives," 53.
(17.) I shall refer to the names in translation for convenience.
(18.) Lapid, "Interview with Rino Zror."
(19.) Andrew and Phelps, Introduction, 3.
(20.) Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, 328.
(21.) Meir-Glitzenstein, "Class and Ethnicity," 133.
(22.) Gradus and Bluestein-Livnon, The Urban Ecology of Beer Sheva, 6.
(23.) Ibid, 33.
(24.) Gradus, "Beer-Sheva, Capital of the Negev Desert," 521-32.
(25.) Margalit, "Eizor ha-ta'asiya ha-iqari shel beer-sheva."
(26.) Blumen, "Space and Periphery," 22.
(27.) Said, Orientalism.
(28.) Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 28-56.
(29.) Levine, The Third Space, 22.
(30.) Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 55.
(31.) Motzafi-Haller, "Religiosity, Gender and Class in a Desert Town."
(32.) Galili, "Metropolis."
(33.) Smooha, "Is Israel Western?," 441.
(34.) Smooha, "Ethnic Democracy," 233.
(35.) Meir-Glitzenstein, "Class, Ethnicity, and the Rise of Immigrant Leadership," 80.
(36.) Mautner, Law and the Culture of Israel, 114.
(37.) Mautner, "Ozmim ayin ahat," 4-8.
(38.) Miron, "Haputa shel Lizzie Badihi," 174.
(39.) Zivoni, "Ha-roman ha-balashi ha-yisraeli," 91-93.
(40.) Abramovich, Back to the Future, 228.
(41.) The first reading mentioned is Zivoni, "Ha-roman ha-balashi ha-yisraeli," 80; the second is Furstenberg, "The New Wave of Israeli Detective," 55.
(42.) Smooha, "Ashkenazi-Sephardi Gaps Narrowing." See also Ya'ar, "Continuity and Change in Israeli Society," 72-104.
(43.) Lahav, "Pluralism Ltd."
(44.) Lapid, "Interview with Rino Zror."
(45.) Tchernichovsky, "Ha-adam eno ela karka eretz ketana."
(46.) Rosenthal, "A Woman Bigger than Reality," B5.
(47.) This translation follows Abramovich, Back to the Future, 231. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.
(48.) Lapid, "Interview with Rino Zror."
(49.) Sapir, "Political Campaign."
(50.) Cohen, Beersheba, 17.
(51.) Licona, "(B)orderlands' Rhetorics and Representations," 106-09.
(52.) Chelm is famous in Jewish tradition for being a city of fools.
(53.) Cohen, Beersheba, 260-70.
(54.) Benjamin, The Arcade Project, 446.
(55.) Ibid, 442; Salzani, "The City as Crime Scene," 165-87.
(56.) Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, 41.
(57.) Tom McDonough, "The Crimes of the Flaneur," 101.
(58.) Cohen, Beersheba, 20.
(59.) Ibid., 284.
(60.) Gradus and Bluestein-Livnon, The Urban Ecology of Beer Sheva, 8.
(61.) Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 38.
(62.) Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature: http://www.ithl.org.il /page_14212.
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2016|
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