Walter Abish, Daring Writer Who Pondered Germany, Dies at 90

That December they fled to Nice, France, then boarded a ship for Shanghai. There, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese forces ordered as many as 18,000 Jewish immigrants into an area called Hongkew, which Mr. Abish described as a ghetto.

He recalled that as World War II wound down, Allied warplanes attacked the Shanghai docks, warehouses and airfields and sometimes civilian targets as well, including an open-air market in Hongkew, where 250 people were killed, among them 30 Jews. Weeks later, after the Japanese surrender, the American Seventh Fleet sailed into Shanghai to begin what turned out to be a freewheeling, if relatively brief, interregnum before revolutionary Communist forces took control.

By the late 1940s, as the inevitability of Mao Zedong’s victory over the ruling Kuomintang became unmistakable, hostility toward foreigners increased. And in December 1948, the Abish family sailed for the newly created state of Israel, circumnavigating Africa and reaching Israel by way of the Mediterranean Sea to avoid a perilous passage through the Suez Canal.

He traces this period in his memoir, a narrative mapped out on two intermingled tracks with chapters titled “The Writer-to-Be” and “The Writer.”

“It’s a book about the making of a writer,” he observed in his interview with Tablet.

Mr. Abish portrayed his years in Israel as part of his literary evolution, recalling his time as a reluctant young conscript in an army tank unit and subsequently as a librarian at the American Library, run by the now-defunct United States Information Agency.

“Is it inevitable that the writer-to-be, variable, inconstant, even disloyal when it comes to obtaining an idea for a story, will view his former friends and lovers as potential material for a future text,” he writes in a passage about a woman he called Allison. And, later, in a passage about a woman called Bilha, he asks: “Does the writer-to-be view love as the ideal text-to-be?”

In 1957, the family moved on again, and he arrived in New York; he became an American citizen in 1960. In the following decade he published a collection of poetry, “Duel Site” (1970), as well as “Alphabetical Africa.” He also published three collections of short stories: “Minds Meet” (1975), “In the Future Perfect” (1977) and “99: The New Meaning” (1990).

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