the short story project

Notes from the Municipal Archives

Naomi Fry On:

Notes from the Municipal Archives by Yonathan Raz Portugali

At the beginning of Notes from the Municipal Archive, the young Yoni Raz Portugali’s father expresses his desire to write a “major book about the history of the Portugali family,” a Zionist epic that would be “the Israeli One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Instead of this magisterial generational saga, what his son ends up writing is the story of an Israeli family in the 1980’s and 1990’s, refracted through the lens of an enduring neighborly dispute documented in letters found in the Tel Aviv Municipal Archive. Mother and child, left behind in Jaffa as Portugali père goes off to write his never-quite-finished tome, become embroiled in a years-long back and forth with the neighboring S. family, whose shifting fortunes and increasing turn to the political right ingeniously encapsulate the larger sociopolitical changes the country is undergoing. If realism as genre is marked by a twofold concentration on interior psychology and exterior detail, then the quasi-legalistic pettiness explored in Portugali’s story becomes the ideal key to capture them both. It’s a narrative of small gestures and reduced horizons, pitch-perfect in its tragicomic exactitude.