A to Zion: The Definitive Israeli Lexicon, by Gilad Atzmon and Enzo Apicella: Books

A good book should hold within its covers a range of ingredients including a bit of poignancy, a touch of irony, a few shockers, a good dose of truth and a smattering of education. It should also entertain. A good book will contain all of this and take around two days to read, if you really get involved. A to Zion: The Definitive Israeli Lexicon offers all of the above, and will only take between 5-10 minutes to read.

Two maverick minds came together to produce it: Gilad Atzmon is well known as a saxophone player, composer and sometimes-controversial writer and speaker. Enzo Apicella is a cartoonist and interior designer based in London but originally from Naples. He has always been known as pushing boundaries, going a bit further and speaking his mind through his drawings.

A to Zion: The Definitive Israeli Lexicon (Fanfare) makes for an interesting read. It is written with Gilad Atzmon’s mischievous tongue firmly in his cheek yet also carries within it some messages which become clear even to the reader who is completely unconnected with politics, yet alone understands them — like me. It is also, whether intentional or not, a real insight into the workings of the mind of an author who does not live in Isreal yet has an abiding love for his country and for most people he meets. He is also blessed with a quirky sense of humor, and a devilish delight in getting reaction.

As a lexicon, the book goes from A-Z (or “A to Zion,” as the title reminds) and offers often more than one definition of Isreali sayings and idioms. Sometimes, the definitions are shocking, but they are meant to be. This is in part, Gilad Atzmon playing with you, enjoying misconceptions and getting a reaction but it is also a way of conveying more serious messages.

Along the way, A to Zion: The Definitive Israeli Lexicon gives some insights for the reader who may be unfamiliar with some sayings of their Jewish friends. For example, Mel Gibson is described as a Goy and the reader immediately wonders what a Goy is. Well, look further and Goy is explained: an ordinary human as opposed to a chosen one. Other examples include Bah Mitzvah, the time when a boy has to accept his foreskin is not going to grow back; Kippa (skull cap, yarmulke), the Jewish cure for baldness; and Klezmer, gypsy music played so badly it became a new genre.

Of course, it would not be Gilad Atzmon without a few — or a lot — of controversial definitions. (Look at the one for G spot; why is that in there?) But actually, little of it is offensive or shocking after the first flip through.

In the end, however, A to Zion: The Definitive Israeli Lexicon is slightly unsure of its message. In fact, is there one? Is it more a humorous look at the misconceptions of understanding? If there are any political messages in the book, they are already in the mind of the reader before they read it, perhaps.

The cartoons are great and enhance the definitions. Some are almost child-like in their simplicity, the picture a direct derivation of the words on the page, whilst others are more subtle and take a bit of looking at before their meaning sinks in. They are clearly drawn, however, by a cartoonist with a whip-sharp mind and a pencil of steel.

Entertaining and clever in places, A to Zion: The Definitive Israeli Lexicon has a good pinch of everything you would expect to find in a good book. The bonus here is that, if you like it, you can spend hours reading it and wondering at the workings of Gilad Atzmon’s inner mind. And if you don’t like it? You can be done in 10 minutes. Either way, it’s a win-win.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein