Herrick Library posts Robert Littell/Shimon Peres Audio 'Tapes'
Alfred University has established an on-line audio collection of five interviews the journalist and novelist Robert Littell conducted with Shimon Peres, former president, prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister of Israel, in a series of meetings from 1996 to 1997.
The Peres Tapes are available at https://aura.alfred.edu/handle/10829/7342. A transcript of the interviews is also in the Herrick Library collection. Alfred University is the official repository for Littell’s manuscripts, including the hand-annotated and edited manuscripts of For the Future of Israel, the 1998 book that Peres and Littell co-authored based on the interviews.
“These tapes should be required listening for anyone investigating the Arab-Israeli controversy since the Six-Day War of 1967,” Alfred University Professor of History Gary Ostrower said. “They not only shed light on Israeli policy, but on the political evolution of one of Israel’s most important leaders.”
Littell, a 1956 graduate of Alfred University, interviewed Peres as Israel was preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Their wide ranging conversations included Peres’ review of his role in the founding of the country, Israel’s evolving relations with the international community, and Peres’ own recollections and assessments of international leaders with whom he had worked -- and negotiated -- as a leading figure in Israel’s government.
Littell says he prepared for the interviews over a three-month period before visiting Peres in his Tel Aviv office. Peres, whom a friend had described as “timid,” received Littell dressed formally in a suit and tie, with the tie tightly knotted and raised to his Adam ’s apple. “He sat stiffly,” Littell recalls, “drinking coffee.”
On the second day of the interviews, Peres met Littell still dressed in a suit and tie, but the tie was no longer knotted high on his neck. By the third day, Littell says, “he greeted me with a warm smile. He wasn’t wearing a tie, the top button of his shirt was unbuttoned and he actually stretched out on his couch, his head on a cushion. It appeared he was enjoying the conversation.”
In addition to its publication by The Johns Hopkins University Press, For the Future of Israel was eventually published in numerous countries and languages; Peres, however, kept copies of the American edition in his office to give to visitors. When Peres and Littell began editing the transcripts of the interviews, Peres, says Littell, kept “all the embarrassing questions and his (to my mind) embarrassed replies intact. Perhaps that’s why he liked the book – it was an accurate reflection of his thoughts.”
Peres died in the fall of 2016, at the age of 93. He last met Littell in Paris at a publication party to celebrate the updated American edition of the book. He was in a good mood, and Littell introduced him to his wife, Victoria, who told Peres she believed Israel should maintain control over the Golan Heights. Peres disagreed.
“He held my wife’s hand in his,” Littell says, and looked down at her – he was very tall – and said: ‘Peace, madam, is higher than a mountain.’”
In addition to For the Future of Israel, Littell is the author of 19 novels and the semi-fictional, alternate history If Israel Lost the War, co-written with Richard Chesnoff and Edward Klein. He has written screenplays for films and television and is the winner of the British Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for Fiction (1973) and the Los Angeles times Book Prize (2005).
A native of New York City, he majored in English at Alfred University while also studying religion and philosophy. After graduating, he served in the U.S. Navy, then worked as a wire service and newspaper reporter in New Jersey and New York before joining Newsweek as a staff writer and general editor.
His 19th novel, “The Mayakovsky Tapes,” was published last year. Littell divides his time between Paris and residences in southern France and Morocco. The brother of Alfred resident and Alfred University alumnus Alan Littell ’53, he currently is working on his 20th novel – in France.
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