September 9th, 2001

Banai's Letters in the Wind

On a recent episode of my chronic bookshop weakness, I bought several books I've been meaning to buy for some time. Somehow, another book crept along with them and demanded that I buy it as well. "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" asks Henry Ward Beecher. I bought the book. It is a Hebrew book called Letters in the Wind, by famous Israeli actor and singer Yossi Banai.

Banai writes a series of letters to people he has known who are no longer living. The letters are candid and personal, and are confessional, mourning, and revealing. The recipients are mostly theater people as well: Nissim Aloni, Hanoch Levin, Nissim Azikri, and others. Other letters are addressed to Banai's mother, Banai's grandfather, and the anonymous doctor who saved Banai's life when Banai suffered a cardiac arrest on stage.

An interesting letter is intended for Georges Brassens. Banai loved Brassens's songs, and actually convinced local translators to translate some of Brassens's work, translated some of the songs himself, and produed a very successful one-man show starring himself, singing and telling Brassens's songs and stories. I have the Banai versions of the Brassens songs on CD, and it's a favorite. Banai successfully preserves Brassens's style, and the songs sound biographic, just as they do when their author sings them.

Banai writes nostalgically, in modern Hebrew that clearly shows the signs of his literary work and his involvement with colloquial Hebrew, through his work with the Hagashash Ha-Xiver comedy trio, for instance. The letters are easy reads, and shed interesting, personal light on the people they discuss, and of course, most of all, on Banai himself.

I breezed through it in a day, breaking (again) my oath to stay away from new books until I finish the ones I'm already reading. Beecher was an optimist: I'm weak-willed in my own book-lined room!
  • Current Music
    Banai Sings Brassens