Growing up in 1980 and 90’s Jerusalem’, Nir Baram was born into a deeply political Jewish family. Both his father and grandfather were Ministers in the Israeli Labour Party governments although he would go on to become a journalist and novelist. Nir Baram has recently brought out his third novel, ‘Night’s End’ – considered by some critics to be his best. Described as semi-autobiographical, it is a deeply personal exploration of a life-long friendship between two boys, one of whom later commits suicide. Baram spoke with us about his latest work via an online BorderKitchens event, from Israel last night
Night’s End is in many ways a story about memory, specifically childhood memories and was written in wake of the death of Baram’s best friend who committed suicide in 2014. They had been friends since age 7, grew up in the same middle class neighbourhood in Jerusalem, fell in love with the same girl at high school and yet the book also explores the less positive aspects of their friendship. Baram’s writing is known for its unflinching honesty and this time is no different. The writer admits that their friendship involved betrayal – ‘There is no loyalty but there is a strong, symbiotic connection’ between the two men.
Baram tells us that writing for him, is a way to deal with the struggles and difficulties of life. In the book Yonatan learns to deal with his world through writing. But his friend, Joel, can not find a way to process these difficulties. He is a charming, charismatic man who becomes a successful lawyer but at some point in his thirties, his world begins to crumble and he moves back in with his parents. Thereafter he seldom leaves his room. The act of writing is thus a redemptive act for Yonatan and yet, paradoxically, when he writes about the past, ‘he kills it’ explains Baram. ‘Scenes, stories and memories are always better in the imagination, once you write them down, you lose something’.
The book is divided into three parts: the present, set in Mexico, where Yonatan has travelled for a literary festival; 1980’s Jerusalem during which time the boys are young but already growing up in a culture in which violence and military service are normalized and then as adolescents and young men in the 1990’s in high school when Yonatan’s mother dies and the boys come of age. Baram explains that the bond between the boys is related to their shared dependence on the imagination. ‘It is their mechanism of survival’ in a world in which violence and being a man are closely related. Military service and fights between groups of Jewish and Arab youths are a reality. He recalls distinctly the day a solider, recently returned from the Intifada visited their school and the awe with which he was received.
The Israeli writer admits that after his friend died, ‘everything was a question for me’. The increasing difficulty of distinguishing memory and reality, truth from fiction is explored as intense childhood memories haunt Yonatan’s adult life. Difficult and painful questions like, did we know each other as well as we thought we did? ‘When you write a book, you build a world’ he says. It is difficult to build a world that explains the death by suicide of one’s best friend, but the raw, sometimes brutal, honesty of Nir Baram’s world is perhaps a good place to start. Souwie Buis 11th June 2020