Literature: Summer Celebration
A lightning. Its light in the bat of an eyelid
Stood, shining, still.
A moment that was soaked in the heavens
And rose as a shimmer and a world.
—The book’s opening lines
Published in 1965, Summer Celebrationnote
by Israeli poet Natan Alterman
is a novel in verse.
The book is about the summer celebration arranged by a local bank in the fictional city of Stamboul (based on Tel-Aviv), taking place right before, during, and right after the party, and how it connects several characters: night guard and newly widowed Siman-Tov, a miserable Mizrakhi Jew immigrant from a nearby settlement named Tsiva, his daughter Miriam Helen, the town Witch, local robber Misha Barkhasid, local mafioso Woldarski, the bank chairman, and Alterman himself. The book is full of unrelated poems discussing metaphysical ideas, impressions of city life, &c., to the point it can break the rhythm of reading, and might be a somewhat challenging read to present-day readers due to this and the somewhat enigmatic language of the non-plot-related poetry; among these poems is poem 19, Things Said In-Between
, which is a series of unrelated shorter poems, some with brief plots of their own.
This book provides examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: Poem 18, The New Faces, briefly discusses the strangeness of non-Ashkenazi last names of the new immigrants to the Ashkenazi locals.
- Affably Evil: Woldarski. Poem 16 sums it up nicely:
Woldarski, who is famous, polite, and knows various languages, but is a scoundrel.
- All Love Is Unrequited: Siman-Tov is only after the Witch’s money, and Miriam Helen’s lover Woldarski tries to force her into prostitution.
- Author Avatar: Alterman appears in the book and even interacts with some of the characters towards the end.
- Author Tract: The metaphysical poetry, and more bluntly so some of poem 43, Interview With the Poet.
- Big Brother Is Watching: Siman-Tov’s dead wife is watching him all over town.
- Book Ends: Part XXII The Grocer and the Cashier of poem 19: a grocer picks up a penny that somehow appeared in his cashier as he was counting his money. The penny turns him into a poor man, telling him how he forgot all about her once he turned wealthy, and is now poor again with only her as his ‘bread and candle’.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Debatable. The characters interact openly with the poet, but they don’t necessarily know they’re in his work.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The Doctor (see Crowning Moment of Heartwarming and I Choose to Stay below) saves Misha Barkhasid’s life.
- The Chessmaster: Two of them, battling each other on a cosmic level: the Witch and Siman-Tov’s wife.
- Crowning Moment of Heartwarming: In-universe example. The head of the emissary from Tsiva’s settlement tells the bank’s Chairman that the local doctor decided to stay after giving birth to his (the head of the emissary’s) wife. The Chairman comments on how people are very negative, and that such a story is worthy of becoming a film. The writer adds that there are plenty of such note-worthy stories everywhere, but our hearts are impermeable.
- Cunning Linguist: One of the things that make Woldarski so affably evil.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Alterman himself, in poem 9 It Is Unlike:
We said once that a street is like
To a tear rolling down a cheek’s city.
No; such things’ true nature
Is phlegm, blood, and mucus.
- The bank’s Chairman, openly mocking Alterman’s poetry.
- Disney Death: Misha Barkhasid narrowly escapes death after being stabbed by Woldarski at the party.
- Drunken Master: Alterman himself, an example of Truth in Television, as well as Harsher in Hindsight, as he died of alcohol poisoning. The amusing poem he writes about wondering whether he should or should not drink the next glass is quite a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Misha Barkhasid sends everyone around him away to listen to Miriam Helen. He agrees to help her, despite her case not being all that special, and even gets stabbed in the lung while wrestling Woldarski.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Miriam Helen asks notorious robber Misha Barkhasid to help her against Woldarski, the man she eloped with who threatened to ruin her face with acid if she doesn’t work as a prostitute for him. Barkhasid says that a man of honour can live on robbery, but ‘will never live off the profits of a woman’s body’.
- Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Siman-Tov complains about how inanimate objects seem to constantly fall on him and try to kill him; justified, as its caused by his angered dead wife.
- Poem 6, A Chat on the Road.
- Poem 16, Barkhasid Listens. Woldarski says he can ruin Miriam Helen’s face with a knife or a razor, but prefers acid. At the party, he draws a knife on her. This goes to show how strong the Witch’s cosmic power over things has grown.
- Glasgow Smile: The doctor in Tsiva’s settlement, who was injured in WWI and has a perpetual frozen smile on his face due to the thin metallic plate under his skin.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Poem 19 has two examples:
- In part VI The Sheep of , an unnamed man steals the ‘poor man’s sheep’ (a Shout-Out to the Poor Man’s Sheep parable from 2 Samuel 12:1-10) and uses up every bit of it, except for a little clump of wool; said clump of wool is used to make the thread that catches fire and gets the man’s house burnt down.
- In part XIV The Woman, a battered pregnant wife, whom God himself offers to avenge, predicts that her vengeance will come from her yet to be born son.
- Humanity Is Infectious: One of the interpretations of section XVIII The Grocer and the Dæmon of poem 19: a dæmon grabs a grocer, taking his shape, and takes his place; but when he asks his mother to take a rest, and she says she is ‘dirt below his feet’, he turns terrified and flees, but leaves hoof-prints behind.
- Hyperlink Story: Every character, pretty much, plays some role or another in the battle between Siman-Tov’s wife’s ghost and the Witch.
- I Choose to Stay: The Doctor, after having given birth to Mr. Katan’s wife, chose to stay in the settlement where he and Tsiva live.
- Implausible Deniability: Misha Barkhasid denies being at the Witch’s house right before the fire started, yet somehow he was busy saving her from it.
- Inferred Holocaust: The Witch may or may have not unleashed a myriad of plagues upon Stamboul and the area around it in rage over the fire at her house and Siman-Tov bailing on her.
- Informed Ability: Woldarski’s linguistic abilities are only briefly mentioned and never displayed.
- The Chairman wants to host the party somewhere accessible to the public, not to shut itself away from the commoners. They reserve the second floor of a café for that matter, and don’t notice when Misha Barkhasid and Woldarski engage in a brutal fight. Once they do, everyone notices just how ironic the Chairman’s words are.
- A darker example: Misha Brakhasid fights Woldarski to save Miriam Helen from becoming a prostitute. When the fight breaks, the crowd says it was a fight between ‘two pimps over a hooker’.
- Is There a Doctor in the House?: Everyone’s looking for one after Barkhasid is stabbed.
- Last Name Basis: Siman-Tov’s and Woldarski’s first names are never given.
- Loveable Rogue: Misha Barkhasid qualifies, perhaps. He’s a rather notorious robber, but still comes across as sympathetic as he agrees to help out Miriam Helen.
- Love Potion: Enfuriated, the Witch uses a strange variation thereof: her potion, described as very concentrated and including some hashish and dynamite, draws all men in town to her house with its scent.
- MacGuffin: Tsiva has pawned the precious chalice he inherited from his father before the book began, planning to give it to his own daughter as her wedding gift, but when he wanted to get it back, it was already sold and could not be traced down again. It resurfaces at the end.
- Mind Rape: See Only Sane Man below.
- Mooks: Woldarski uses those as body guards. Misha Barkhasid is a bit nervous at the thought of having to confront them as well as Woldarski, but goes on as planned. Fortunately, Siman-Tov’s wife’s ghost is there to help.
- No Name Given: The Witch, the Chairman, and the cashier at the café where the party is held.
- Not So Stoic: Misha Barkhasid at the party itself. He leaps violently on Woldarski as soon as he seizes Miriam Helen and starts a brutal fight against him.
- Ode to Intoxication: See Drunken Master above.
- Oh, Crap: Alterman’s reaction when he finds himself surrounded by the party guests.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: The poet himself is always referred to in the third person as ‘the writer’, and his name is never mentioned.
- Only Sane Man: Only one man in town stands up against the witch’s love potion, praising the merits of the human mind (‘Even had it invented / Only the use of leverage and the multiplication table / I would have bowed my head before it’, poem 24). Subverted, as every other man is fully aware of how gruesome the witch is, but can’t help but going to look for her anyway, and said man quickly joins them himself.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Siman-Tov’s wife. The double meaning of the Hebrew word ‘ruakh’note is used at the end of the poem, when she takes the form of a powerful gust of wind and trashes the café to save Miriam Helen.
- Plunder: Strangely inverted when Siman-Tov’s dead wife turns off the lights and blows a strong wind in the café The cashier there thinks the world has gone mad and throws out Tsiva’s chalice, which was intended as a gift for the Chairman.
- In poem 27, Before the Riot, Misha Barkhasid says that his face can only be further corrupted using a cannon. Perhaps. This is actually justified, as he plans to take Woldarski’s bottle of acid as a warning to stay away from Miriam Helen, realising that acid is not such a serious threat to himself as it is to him. Woldarski draws a knife instead.
- In poem 43, Interview with the Writer, the bank’s Chairman openly mocks Alterman’s style.
- Serious Business: In part XVII The Musical Instruments of poem 19, a random young man is asked by a band of three street performers to write lyrics to some tune of theirs. He works on those lyrics well into his old age, constantly improving, editing, re-writing it, and still not finding it worthy... only to be met by their laughter when he finally submits it to them.
- Sex Slave: Woldarski wants to turn Miriam Helen into a prostitute by force.
- The Walrus Was Paul: Not the main plot, which is pretty straight-forward, but the unrelated poems are very enigmatic. Lampshaded by Alterman in poem 34, Footnote Poem.
- What Is This Feeling?: Misha Barkhasid is surprised at being nervous when he plans his confrontation against Woldarski.
- Woman Scorned: Siman-Tov’s wife, both in life and death, and the Witch.