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From Foe to Friend & Other Stories
By S. Y. Agnon
A Graphic Novel by Shay Charka
Toby Press, which is part of Koren Press, one of Israel’s best publishing houses, has published twelve books in English translation by the famed Nobel Prize winning author S. Y. Agnon (1888-1970) and one graphic novel based on three of Agnon’s stories by Shay Charka, which is this book. Charka is one of the best-known Israeli caricaturists. The book was originally published in Hebrew as “Shay veAgnon: Sheloshah Sippurim” (Shay and Agnon: Three Stories). The stories are delightful, thought-provoking, and humorous. The drawings are nice, charming, clever, and very funny. The stories are written on specially strong paper thicker than four pages bonded together.
The first of the three tales is called “From Foe to Friend.” Without telling the end of this story or of the other two, it focuses on an Israeli who wanted to move out of the old city of Jerusalem to the area called Talpiot. At that time, Talpiot was an unbuilt area; today it is a suburb in the hills to the south of the old city of Jerusalem. The man enjoyed the fresh air and smells of Talpiot and wanted to live there. Unfortunately, in those days, before Talpiot was built, the area was ruled by the king of winds who did not like the invasion of this man into his domain. This story tells of humorous attempts by the king to rid the space of this intruder.
The second, “The Fable of the Goat,” is simple, yet the profoundest of the three; it is like a parable. An old man is sick and can only survive with goat’s milk. He buys a goat. After a while, the goat disappears. But it returns. And when the old man tastes the goat’s milk after its return, the milk is so sweet that it is like the taste of the Garden of Eden. The goat disappears and returns many times with the same tasty result. The old man tells his son that he would like to know where the goat goes when it disappears. The son suggests that they tie a rope to the goat’s tale, he will hold on to the rope, and he will follow it to discover where it goes. And he does so, with a profound result.
The last narrative, “The Architect and the Emperor,” is about an emperor who has an architect that has built many outstanding structures for him. One day he instructed the architect to build him a splendid palace. But the architect was tired of building. When the emperor insisted, the architect painted a huge picture of a beautiful palace. When the emperor saw that all he got was an enormous painting, he bristled with anger. The architect said he did not understand why the emperor was angry. He walked up to the door in the painting, and what follows is the kind magical story for which Agnon is famous.
I recommend this book as well as the other Agnon tales published by Toby Press. As the Nobel Prize committee declared, Agnon’s books are superb literature.