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A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2002)

by Amos Oz

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,755456,008 (4.2)169
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English (26)  Dutch (6)  German (4)  Swedish (3)  Catalan (2)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (45)
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Oz writes about his parents, their background in Russia and how they came to Palestine in the thirties; about his childhood in a suburb of Jerusalem, the creation of the state of Israel and the war of 1948; about his mother's illness and death, and his decision to leave home in his early teens and move to a kibbutz, and - indirectly - about how all that shaped the kind of writer he became.

This is already a fascinating story from the purely historical point of view - I knew very little about Israel, and most of what I've read about the Jewish experience in the 20th century has been by people who either experienced the Nazi terror at first hand or who emigrated to Britain or the US. So it was very interesting to read about the Zionist movement in the early 20th century, Tarbut schools, the politics surrounding the creation of the new state, and all the rest. And particularly about the role played by the reinvention of Hebrew as a modern language. It's not many writers who get to work in a language on which the ink is still wet - Oz records that his father's uncle, Joseph Klausner, was responsible for devising the Hebrew words for such basic concepts as "shirt", "pencil" and "rhinoceros". Oz himself was brought up speaking only Hebrew, but his parents and most of their neighbours still used Russian, Yiddish, and various other European languages between themselves, especially when something had to be said that wasn't for the boy's ears.

The way emigration to Palestine worked also meant that Oz grew up in a very odd social environment in which almost every adult in the very poor neighbourhood where they lived seemed to be a poet, scholar, physician or politician of some kind. His father was a literary scholar, working as an academic librarian since there weren't enough students to provide employment for more than a small fraction of the teachers. One of young Amos's early memories is of being told off very firmly for arranging his little collection of picture books on the shelf by size. We don't do that sort of thing in this house!

Then there's the whole theme of the cultures that are competing to define the new nation - all the different permutations of secular humanism versus orthodox Judaism, suits and ties vs. suntans and shorts, Tel Aviv vs. Jerusalem, shtetl vs. kibbutz, left vs. right, peaceful coexistence vs. permanent war, one state vs. two, and so on - none of them a straightforward choice.

But even if you start reading this book for its subject-matter, you will probably go on because of Oz's extraordinary skill as a storyteller. Every little anecdote is a joy in itself, but it also draws you in further along the carefully constructed path of the story, bringing you towards the narrative crux, the key event in his childhood, his mother's death. But not actually reaching it until the very end of the book - each time the story approaches this key moment, it swerves off in a different direction, and these moments of not telling turn out to be some of the most expressive in the book. Very moving.

I was also struck by the ease with which Oz switches between the narrative voice of the observant child and that of the analytical adult, which is often something that gives memoirs an awkwardly disjointed feel - most writers are much better at one than the other. Here we hardly notice the joins, as he tells us about what he remembers seeing and hearing, then moves on seamlessly to reflect with hindsight on the wider context. He even manages to do this convincingly in the secondhand account of his mother's childhood in Rovno, as told him many years afterwards by her sister. ( )
1 vote thorold | Feb 5, 2019 |
I was pleased to learn about the great writer Amos Oz, and to learn so much about the history of the State of Israel from someone who lived through it. The book was a little bit too long with a little too much detail and too many repetitions. ( )
  suesbooks | Sep 27, 2017 |
If you can call your autobiography "A Tale of Love and Darkness" and make it seem halfway appropriate, you've probably done something right. Despite its dramatic -- if well-earned -- title, Amos Oz's memoir moves along at a leisurely pace over over five-hundred plain-spoken yet wonderfully precise pages. For what's purported to be an autobiography, its narrative isn't particularly linear, is hardly tightly plotted, and, at times, it seems pretty uninterested in its own subject. One gets to know the author, but often get the feeling that he doesn't consider himself the most important element in it. It's a refreshing and unexpectedly effective way to relate a life story.

Instead, we get a fond recollection of pre-partition Jerusalem, which comes off, as sleepy, crumbling town whose myriad ethnicities looked anxiously toward an uncertain future. We hear about some of his famous relatives, which include noted historian Joseph Klausner and various other luminaries on the Israeli right wing. We hear about the author's neighbors who shared space with him in a crowded, slightly shoddy lower-middle class neighborhood. And, perhaps most importantly, we hear about the author's parents. Indeed, "A Tale of Love and Darkness" sometimes seems as much about the author's life and successes and about their difficult and often frustrated lives -- the author's father was an emotionally awkward, rather pedantic academic, while his mother seemed his opposite in every way, a beautiful, charismatic, intellectually sharp and melancholic beauty. What's most remarkable about all this is how faithfully Oz seems to have recreated all of this: he takes his readers on walks around old Jerusalem and reconstructs the social, intellectual, and political circles that his parents ran in with a surprising degree of accuracy. It's not surprising, then, that there's a lot here about the formative years of the Israeli state, and about the conflicting intellectual and religious currents that drove it. For the record, the author's parents and grandparents seemed to favor a conservative model that had a lot in common with nineteenth-century European nationalism, while the author himself ended up in the Kibbutz movement. While his family emigrated before the Second World War, one also gets a real sense of what a touch-and-go, improvised affair state-building could be: Oz describes both an agrarian industry and a stat bureaucracy being built, more or less, from the ground up.

When it comes to the author himself, he seems most enthusiastic when talking about his literary and sexual development, and his passion for both books and women fairly blasts through the pages. His description of life at Kibbutz Hulda is also interesting, as it follows his transformation from a shy, pale, and nervous city boy to a much stronger and more confident farmer. While he mentions that he left the Kibbutz in 1985, the author seems to avoid expressing opinions about contemporary Israeli politics, though he takes care to emphasize that some of the most important moments of his lives were those when he realized -- or was taught -- that the Arab residents of the Levant on the other side of the fence were, in fact, human. To sum up, "A Tale of Love and Darkness" is well worth reading. I'm planning to read Anthony Shadid's "House of Stone" to see if it might contain a similar story from a very different perspective. ( )
3 vote TheAmpersand | Jan 8, 2017 |
Seine Sprache - seine Beobachtungsgabe - sein Witz!
  KarenGermany | Nov 21, 2016 |
This is an extraordinary book that was well worth rereading. Portrait of an artist, the creation of a country and a shifting political consciousness, and the devastating effects of a parent's suicide. I think it is Oz's best. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (49 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amos Ozprimary authorall editionscalculated
Krielaars, MIchelForewordmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pach, HildeTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Achlama, RuthTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de Lange, NicholasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
García Lozano, RaquelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pach, HildeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parker, StephenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I was born and bred in a tiny, low-ceilinged ground-floor flat.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Please do not combine this work with the original novel by Amos Oz. This work contains one chapter of the novel, and an interview with the author.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 015603252X, Paperback)

Tragic, comic, and utterly honest, this extraordinary memoir is at once a great family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history.

It is the story of a boy growing up in the war-torn Jerusalem of the forties and fifties, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. His mother and father, both wonderful people, were ill-suited to each other. When Oz was twelve and a half years old, his mother committed suicide, a tragedy that was to change his life. He leaves the constraints of the family and the community of dreamers, scholars, and failed businessmen and joins a kibbutz, changes his name, marries, has children, and finally becomes a writer as well as an active participant in the political life of Israel.

A story of clashing cultures and lives, of suffering and perseverance, of love and darkness.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Amos Oz takes us on a journey through his childhood and adolescence, a quixotic child's-eye view along Jerusalem's wartorn streets in the 1940s and '50s, and into the infernal marriage of two kind, well-meaning people: his fussy, logical father, and his dreamy, romantic mother. Caught between them is one small boy with the weight of generations on his shoulders. And at the tragic heart of the story is the suicide of his mother, when Amos was twelve-and-a-half years old. Soon after, still a gawky adolescent, he left home, changed his name and became a tractor driver on a kibbutz." "'Jews go back to Palestine' the graffiti in 1930s Lithuania urged his family, so they went; then later the walls of Europe shout 'Jews get out of Palestine'. Oz's story dives into 120 years of family history and paradox, the saga of a Jewish love-hate affair with Europe that sweeps from Vilna and Odessa, via Poland and Prague, to Israel. Those who stayed in Europe were murdered; those who escaped took the past with them. In search of the roots of his family tragedy, he uncovers the secrets and skeletons of four generations of Chekhovian characters in this Tolstoyan drama. Meet the three sisters who got away; the old woman with a terrible fear of Levantine germs; the men who liked women, just a bit too much; cats in the classroom, bombs in the street, the dwarf in the department store; messianic kibbutzniks and self-important scholars. And be there on the night the UN said yes to Israel and his father cried; or the disastrous day a priggish little Jewish boy tried to impress a Palestinian girl. Farce and heartbreak, history and humanity make up this portrait of the artist who saw the birth of a nation, and came through its turbulent life as well as his own."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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