Israel is one of the few countries with compulsory military service for women. It lasts 24 months, a year less than for men. Paulina Tuchschneider (Zabrze, Poland, 1987), who came to Tel Aviv from Warsaw at the age of two, was also trained in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He never finished his service. He deserted. “I'm like an alien. My place didn't belong to the army. That's why I wrote about a heroine who is involved in a different struggle, the female one, where you see yourself surrounded by bodies and feel like you're not like the others,” she explains in a video call from her home in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, where he lives with his partner and his cats, who appear on stage at some point in the interview.
Tuchschneider, editor of the journalistic research program Hamakor (The Source), debuted with “The Soldier,” a novel that sparked much discussion in Israel by exposing the absurdity of war and questioning what no one dared to reveal: the mental chaos when recruiting, practically teenagers who overnight hold an M16 in one hand and a shampoo in the other as they line up at the communal showers.
Translated into Spanish by Esther Cross in Periférica and with a biting style that takes the reader between laughter and horror, Tuchschneider was inspired by her own life to imagine a fiction about the psychological decline of an 18-year-old soldier who believes She is more list than the others and ends up getting caught up in the Lebanon War of 2006. As a fan of Gargabe, Hole and Marilyn Manson, the heroine of this story is sent to the north of Israel, to a military base where she can't stand these docile young people Women who, with their beaded berets, never question anything in this brotherhood imposed on an unwillingly shared fate.
Questions. The soldier opens many debates. How was it received?
Answer. In Israel, many men didn't like it. Others loved it, but many called me hysterical and whiny for exposing the fear of being a soldier. Even in Argentina, where it was translated, I found comments from men along these lines. And it doesn't have to be that way. Many Israeli women wrote to me and said: “Until I read you, I felt like I was alone, like I was the only one who had experienced this.” I was also afraid in the army. “I didn’t know what to do, nor did I ever belong there.” Overall, beyond these specific criticisms, it was incredible to know that there was much more to the position.
Q More than between bombs or shots, the story moves between the pimples that explode on the soldiers, the cellulite exposed by lights that are as white as they are hostile, or the terror of urinating on the bunk. Why does the body dominate the sound?
R. Because not enough has been said about him. We already have enough books about war. I wanted to talk about fear, and that is a war in the body trying to control itself, to survive. The soldier tries to do her best until the war comes and everything becomes too much for her. The body betrays her. That's the interesting thing. Sometimes the body teaches you things that the mind cannot tell you.
The author Paulina Tuchschneider, in a photo from the Periférica publishing house.
Q Shame is another protagonist. The heroine understands that some of the soldiers she has trained over the years withdraw their greetings when they meet her.
R. I live in a troubled country when war comes. If you are a soldier, you are expected to do your job. I wanted to talk about those who aren't good soldiers, because that's exactly what can happen when everyone is forced to enlist. And that’s where shame is crucial. She failed as a soldier, but not as a person. When you're in a group and you're the one who's dysfunctional, the one they can't control; When they ask you to leave, you understand that you are not strong enough to endure it. I don't want to say it's right or wrong, but you feel like you've failed.
I believe that this is the end of the State of Israel. I have Hamas at my door, I feel like they could kidnap me or kill me
Q At one point in the novel, the protagonist feels that it is not fair that people in Tel Aviv make decisions for her, that she is experiencing war.
R. The point of view of the text is that of a very young person. It's about what you think when you're 18 years old and you just want to party, drink, have a good time and even though you know you have to be a soldier, you hope you don't experience war. It's normal for her to think, “Are they doing what's best for us?” When you have that thought floating around, it's very difficult to be a good soldier because you're afraid and you become cynical.
Q At a certain point in the war, she asks herself: Does anyone have a plan?
R. Yes, that was criticized a lot after the Second Lebanon War. Now, with this war, we feel the same way: But doesn't anyone have a plan for the day after? Are you doing your best to protect our lives? Sometimes you have the feeling that no, everything is very complicated.
Q What has changed now?
R. I have never been more scared than I have been since October 7th [fecha en que se produjo el ataque de Hamás]. I believe that this is the end of the State of Israel. I have Hamas at my door, I feel like they could kidnap me or kill me. This is the end. In 2006 I didn't have that feeling. There were rockets, but now those rockets are in Tel Aviv. This is the worst thing that has happened to us since the Holocaust, it is a completely different war.
Now we have the worst government we could have in both Israel and Palestine. Nobody is looking for a solution.
Q What do you think the soldiers are thinking now?
R. I think about her a lot. They are courageous women, I am in contact with them through my work and I hear stories that leave me speechless. It is the first time that women have access to tanks and that has been a big problem in Israel. People said they couldn't do it. On the one hand, I see all these incredible women defending their country in such a difficult time. On the other hand, I can't help but think: Are there women who are scared, who just want to go home? I think of her and this side, of these women who say to themselves: “I don’t want to fight. I'm afraid”.
Q Its protagonist says he never thought about the enemy or the lives of Palestinians. Do you think it's a feeling that occurs now too?
R. We have a problem in Israel that we do not face. Hamas is terrible. But two million people also live in Gaza. Their leaders are the worst and our leaders are the worst. We all have the worst government we could have because no one is looking for a solution. This does not mean that people here are cruel to Palestinians, but sometimes we ignore the problem. We want to live like the protagonist, escape and without having to deal with it. Only now you can't because it's blowing up in your face. You can't ignore what's happening in your neighborhood, you can't ignore what's around you.
Q And what can you do?
R. This is a ticking time bomb. I had never been so sad, I had always believed that all we had left were the good people on both sides, that one day we would meet to find a solution. But right now all I can think about is an escalation of violence. How this war will grow.
Q Your novel is going to be made into a film, how do you imagine that?
R. You know all those images from movies like Save Private Ryan where the grenades land in epic fashion? Well, it won't be like that at all. I just want to highlight scenes like the one in the shower where women take out tampons, struggle to put their towel down in a dry place, and put shampoo in their hair. I have already written everything and my husband will be the director, so it will be perfect.
Cover of “Las soldada”, published in Periférica and with translation by Esther Ross.Periférica
All the culture that goes with it awaits you here.
The literary news analyzed by the best critics in our weekly newsletter
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits