Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Tale of Love and Darkness (Reviewed August 2008)

A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz (2003)[*****]. After I read Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life by Sari Nusseibeh, Gordon suggested I read this memoir by the Israeli writer Amos Oz, and I'm glad he did. Oz and Nusseibeh are contemporaries, and grew up very near one another on either side of the concrete wall that divided Jerusalem after the war of independence. Oz's memoir is nothing like Nusseibeh's however; if Once Upon A Country reads like a spy novel, A Tale of Love and Darkness reads more like an epic poem. A beautiful, exquisitely crafted, and really long epic poem. I LOVE this book, but it took me all summer -- it was sort of like triple chocolate cheesecake -- I could only take a few bites at a time. Among the things I love are the long, detailed, concrete descriptions; the illuminating and often humorous portraits of Oz's family going back several generations; and the non-linear narrative, which keeps looping and looping around what turns out to be a central, devastating event in Oz's childhood, his mother's suicide. My criticism of Nusseibeh was that his political memoir was not personal enough; my criticism of Oz is that his limited political commentary lacked nuance and passion, and the writing in these sections was flat. There were a few wonderful scenes in which the young Oz interacted with Arabs -- in one such scene, a kind Arab gentleman rescues him from a department store cupboard where Oz had taken refuge after a dwarf woman whom he thought was a fellow child scared the living day-lights out of him -- but when Oz speaks about Arabs generally, especially in recounting the political events before, during and after the war of independence, his prose begins to read a bit like a standard-issue Israeli text book. I believe that Oz is actually a pretty dovish, Peace Now kind of guy, but you wouldn't know it from this memoir, which mostly ends when he is in his early 20's.

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