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Batya Gur, Israel's Agatha Christie, Dies at Age 57

June 9, 2005 By:
Talya Halkin, JE Feature
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The Jerusalem Post

Internationally acclaimed writer Batya Gur, who died May 26 in Jerusalem at the age of 57, was buried at the Givat Shaul cemetery. Gur is survived by her three children from her first marriage, to the psychologist Amos Gur, and by her second husband, literary scholar Ariel Hirschfield.

Gur made a name for herself as author of six detective novels starring the melancholy, intellectual Michael Ohayon.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Gur studied Hebrew literature and history at Hebrew University, earned a master's degree in comparative literature, resided for a period of time in the United States, and taught high school for many years before writing her first novel, The Saturday Morning Murder: A Psychoanalytic Case, at age 39.

Gur - described as "an Israeli Agatha Christie" - once revealed that she was attracted to detective stories because they seemed the least pretentious genre. In doing so, she launched modern Hebrew crime-writing.

In recent years, Gur, who resided in Jerusalem's German Colony, confessed that the Moroccan-born, Jerusalem-based detective, whose police investigations probed the fundamental elements of Israeli identity and experience, was a kind of "alter ego," or ideal representation of herself.

Ohayon's investigations always involve aesthetic or social questions. Gur's complex narratives, which unfold against the background of cultural and political conflict between Palestinians and Jews - or Sephardis and Ashkenazis - require Ohayon to comprehend obscure literary theories, psychoanalysis or the nature of kibbutz life before he can solve the mystery.

The question Gur pursued was not the classical "who dunnit," but rather the historical, cultural or political context from which the murder had sprung.

Gur distinguished herself by creating a series of enclosed worlds that possess their own internal logic, yet simultaneously form vignettes of Israeli life and experience at large. In Literary Murder: A Critical Case, Ohayon investigates a scandalous double murder at an elite academic institution, and solves the crime while pondering the mysterious nature of creativity. In Murder Duet: A Musical Case, the detective - a lover of classical music - sets out to solve the crime of two brutally murdered musicians. Bethlehem Road Murder requires the protagonist to probe secrets of an impenetrable Jerusalem neighborhood. In Murder on a Kibbutz: A Communal Case, the detective enters a society whose sense of collective solidarity supposedly excludes acts of individual violence.

Her books were translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese.

In 2001, Gur wrote a suspense series in collaboration with Ram Levi and Asaf Tzipor that aired on Israel's Channel 2, and was later published as a book. Most recently, she had been working on a detective comedy for Jerusalem's Chan Theater.

She became sick a year ago, and struggled to the very end to pursue her work as a literary critic for Ha'aretz, where she made a reputation as an astute reader of Hebrew literature. Her private list of literary loves included classics of world literature such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, Virginia Wolf and Marguerite Yourcenar.

In 2003, Gur - who came to be known as an outspoken critic of Israeli politics and society - wrote a week's worth of journal entries that were published in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, interspersed with journal entries written the same week by Palestinian Suad Amiry in the West Bank.

In them, she described being woken by the muezzin's call to hear news about soldiers killed in Gaza, listening to ambulances go by and realizing another suicide attack had occurred, and shuddering at the sound of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon voice, which, she wrote, she hasn't "been able to stand since the war in Lebanon in 1982."

Nevertheless, she wrote that when a German journalist asked her whether she could live elsewhere, she replied, "I shudder at the idea and answer: 'No way.' " Surprised, the journalist asked why she didn't just retreat to the countryside, far from Jerusalem.

"I retort that no place in the world is any safer than here. I am unable to explain why I can't live anywhere else. It's not so much the idea of homeland, but rather of attachment to people, language and odors. That's how it is." u

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