Leon Levit was a German Jew who arrived in British Mandate Palestine in 1932. He served in the British Army in Palestine during the Second World War and participated in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. He later became an Israeli diplomat whose postings included New York, where he was Israel’s economic attaché, and Turkey, where he was Israel’s chargé d’affaires.
In retirement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry in the 1960s, Levit wrote A Mercedes in the Sand. In the novel’s foreword, Levit wrote that his novel is a work of fiction about a “German Jew who lost one home in the land of his birth and who found another elsewhere after many internal and external struggles.”
Levit wrote the book in German, his mother tongue, and it was still unpublished when he died in Tel Aviv in 1974. Through the efforts of his daughter, Daphna Levit, the book was published in its original German in 2002 as Ein Mercedes Im Sand.
And, now, through the efforts of another daughter, Ruth Levit Miller of Ottawa, A Mercedes in the Sand is now available in English translation.
Miller says arranging for translation and publication of A Mercedes in the Sand was a “labour of love.” She describes her father’s story, set in Germany and Israel, as a “pearl of a book that I want to share with the whole world.”
“My father was a citizen of the world,” said Miller. “He spoke German, English, Hebrew, Latin, Italian and Turkish. He was a person who always saw both sides of the coin, always analyzed and examined situations he faced.
“In the book, he presents a very different perspective of Germany before the war, of the British soldiers in Palestine and their relationships with the Jews and Arabs in the area, and of the Jews and the Arabs themselves.”
Miller stressed that A Mercedes in the Sand is a novel and not autobiography.
“He typed the book on a little Remington typewriter and thought the book would never be published in Germany. Sadly, he didn’t live to see that it was not only published there, but that it was a great success,” she said.
“The humour is brilliant,” said Miller, calling attention to his depictions of British Mandate Palestine and the first experiences of Yechas (a derogatory term in Israel for assimilated Jews from Germany) arriving from a more luxurious lifestyle than was realistically possible in the Middle East at that time: “A Mercedes in the sand in a land that had yet to have roads.”
Indeed, A Mercedes in the Sand is an often-funny page turner – even as it delves into such serious matters as the Nazis rise to power in Germany, identity politics, and racism and prejudice in different societies.
In addition to such familiar places as Tel Aviv and Haifa, Levit presents places like Kfar Ofot (“village of chickens” in Hebrew) and Kibbutz Pina Nidahat (Hebrew for “a distant corner”). His use of Hebrew, Yiddish and Arabic slang enriches the text.
A Mercedes in the Sand is available from Amazon at in both Kindle and paperback editions.