the short story project

Jacob Wallenstein, Notes for a Future Biography

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Jacob Wallenstein, Notes for a Future Biography by Shay Azoulay

Shay Azulai’s Jacob Wallenstein is a Jew of German origin, a pyromaniac and lover of speculative literature, residing in Tel Aviv of the forties and fifties; when he is not busy smoking himself to death or burning manuscripts and houses, he writes about the future: “Most inhabitants of the developed world go to work every morning, where they sit for several hours in front of blinking screens, and then return home to sit in front of other, bigger screens.” It is Wallenstein’s true prophecy, which appears in his lengthy novel “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” In fact, all the prophecies in his book are true, but there is no need to read Wallenstein’s magnum opus, since the author, Shay Azulai, summarizes the thousand-page fictional sci-fi novel (as fictional as Wallenstein) for us: “…This example, which might seem humorous in summary, takes up 217 pages of Wallenstein’s novel. Reading it is an exhausting and frustrating struggle that can leave the reader utterly hopeless and certain that the issue can never be resolved, and that perhaps all other human endeavors are equally futile.” Azulai’s story is a feat as impossible as threading an elephant through the eye of a needle: Jacob Wallenstein’s magnum opus turns into an amusing anecdote, the years go by, people die and new ones are born, and every now and then emerges some Wallenstein who attempts to say something ambitious about the future—but the future washes everyone away, even the Wallensteins. It is a seemingly realistic story about a sci-fi novel that was never written, winking at genre stereotypes, and asking what is speculative literature, and whether there is literature that is not speculative?