Scenes from Village Life

by Amos Oz

Other authorsN. R. M. De Lange
Book, 2011



Call number





Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.


Strange things are happening in Tel Ilan, a century-old pioneer village. A disgruntled retired politician complains to his daughter that he hears the sound of digging at night. Could it be their tenant, that young Arab? But then the young Arab hears the diggings sounds, too. And where has the mayor's wife gone, vanished without trace, her note saying "Don't worry about me"?

Media reviews

Loneliness, lethargy, depression, and vague but unmistakable feelings of anxiety pervade most of the characters and the overall mood of the book. These senses of aloneness, isolation, and unease are reminiscent of the short stories of Anton Chekhov and Sherwood Anderson. Mr. Oz’s stories almost
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have a sense of the uncanny yet contain no supernatural elements. Fans of Mr. Oz’s novels and his memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness will find this book lacks the narrative and psychological complexity of those longer works—but that’s not a fair comparison...Mr. Oz’s signature prose style is undiminished in this shorter format, and Nicholas de Lange’s British translation meets the high standard Mr. Oz’s Anglophone readers have come to expect of him.

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2 more
Oz is a versatile writer, and he returns, in his fine new story collection, “Scenes From Village Life,” to a spare, almost allegorical style, in which the silence around the words also signifies. Admirably rendered in English by Oz’s longtime translator, Nicholas de Lange, these linked
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stories prove achingly melancholy, a cumulative vision of anomie and isolation in an apparently cozy Israeli village. Echoes of Sherwood Anderson are unmistakable here: Tel Ilan is Oz’s Winesburg, Ohio, a place of supposed community and mutual support in which each soul struggles privately with longing and disappointment. Each of the collection’s eight stories shows someone searching, either literally or metaphorically, and without success, for relief. Some venture toward the gothic: “Lost,” about a real estate agent’s eager and ultimately eerie visit to the crumbling mansion he hopes to buy, raze and redevelop, reads like something by Edgar Allan Poe. Others are slightly fantastical: the first story has something of Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the last is reminiscent of Kafka.
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Amos Oz tar det lugnt. Kanske lite väl lugnt. Han litar på sin penna och sin varma och vänliga berättarauktoritet. Det räcker långt, men jag känner mig ändå lite oengagerad när boken är slut.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kidzdoc
This collection of short stories by Amos Oz is set in an apparently fictional historical village in Israel that has been populated by Jews for roughly a century. The characters in the first seven stories all know each other, and those who are the center of one story will often appear in a minor
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role in one or more other ones. The stories are about the lives of the characters within their families and community, and focus on the loneliness and barely hidden frustration and despair that plague each of them. Each character is in a search for something, often without knowing what it is they are looking for or why, and the stories are dreamlike, haunting, and often mildly uncomfortable and menacing.

In the longest story, "Digging", a middle-aged widow lives with her cantakerous and difficult elderly widowed father, along with a shy and introspective Arab university student who lives in a shed on their land in exchange for performing household chores. The elderly man is awakened each night by the sound of digging underneath the house, yet no one else seems to hear it. Other stories feature a single doctor who expectantly waits for her ill nephew; a divorced woman pursued by a lovestruck and lonely teenager; an older man who lives in peace with his infirm mother at the edge of the village, until an intrusive stranger who claims to be a relative urges him to sell his mother's property; and the town's mayor, who receives a mysterious note from his wife. Oz does not provide the reader or his characters with straightforward resolutions to their dilemmas or searches, which made the stories that much more memorable and powerful.

The last story is quite unlike the others, as it is set in a different place at another time (past? present?), in a town whose structures are decaying and whose citizens are dying despite the best efforts of the official who is charged with their welfare.

The stories are wonderfully written, with simple yet evocative language, and I slowly savored each passage, such as this one from the elderly man in "Digging", as the Arab student plays a haunting Russian melody on his harmonica on one summer evening:

'That's a lovely tune,' the old man said. 'Heart-rending. It reminds us of a time when there was still some fleeting affection between people. There's no point in playing tunes like that today: they are an anachronism, because nobody cares any more. That's all over. Now our hearts are blocked. All feelings are dead. Nobody turns to anyone else except from self-interested motives. What is left? Maybe only this melancholy tune, as a kind of reminder of the destruction of our hearts.'

[Scenes from Village Life] is an unforgettable book, which is one of my favorite reads of the year, and one I look forward to returning to in the near future.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
I took my time reading one short story from this book each day, and was able to savour the writing, well drawn characters and various other rich details, and ponder over each of these as I went along. Each story takes place in the same fictional village of Tel-Ilan in Israel, a place of great
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natural beauty, and a Jewish settlement of more than a hundred years old which, as such, pre-dates the foundation of the state of Israel. The title describes the approach of the author very well, with each tale narrating a different scene; each is set in a contemporary setting which features various inhabitants of the village and describes an incident, weaved in with their relations to one another, their history and their personal challenges and struggles. There is a woman in her forties living with her elderly father who needs constant looking after and who is convinced that he hears digging under the house in the middle of the night. There is the female village doctor who awaits her beloved nephew at the bus terminal and is distraught when he doesn't show up. There is a couple which tries to hold on to a full life after the suicide of their sixteen-year old son, and a houseguest who decides to investigate what lays behind closed doors. Some of the characters reappear in other stories, which creates a connection between the various parts of the book, as the stories are quite diverse and do not form a cohesive narrative taken as a whole. One thing they all seem to have in common is that they end on a note of suspense; pregnant moments filled with possibilities. Of course, this leaves much to the imagination, a devise which works well in the hands of this masterful and mature author, but at the same time made me wish Amos Oz had developed the stories beyond these small glimpses into these people's lives. As such, I was left feeling very much like a voyeur, looking through small windows at fleeting moments of his characters' lives—which he manages to make us believe in within the first few sentences of each story—at what feels beyond a doubt like a much bigger life experience. Much closer to the way we experience real life, in fact: through these various disconnected moments, as opposed to the long flowing narratives often found in novels which don't much resemble any living individual's personal experience.

There is a prevailing note of melancholy throughout, and the last story of the book, which takes us to an altogether different place at a different time, is truly dark in tone and imbued with a sense of hopelessness, which is an odd place to finish, but then again, as there is no beginning and no end to any of the stories, perhaps we're only meant to take this new element of the puzzle as a shift in paradigm. Overall I was quite impressed with this new-to-me author and will be interested to read some of his novels. I truly wish my Hebrew was good enough for me to read them in the original version, because with the little Hebrew that remains to me, I can't help but try to translate as I'm reading to get a better feeling for the tone and intention and the Israeli spirit and mentality which I grew up with as a child. It's all here in this strange little book, to be sure. Recommended, though do expect to be left in a ponderous state to figure out the full implications on your own.
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LibraryThing member iddrazin
Amos Oz is a great writer. He writes in Hebrew, and his books are translated into English. He is considered one of the top three Israeli writers. This book, which will be published on October 20, 2011 - I received as an advance reading copy - contains eight brilliant short, perceptive,
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thought-provoking, and somewhat disturbing vignettes, about sometimes surreal citizens of an Israeli village.

For example, in the first story Heirs, an unusual stranger, outlandishly dressed with bizarre behavior, arrives at the home of a troubled man and tells him that he would like to buy his very old mother’s house, the house in which he and his mother are living. The son is conflicted. He wants and doesn’t want to sell. He tells the man to leave. But the man ignores the order, enters the house, goes to the silent old woman’s bedroom, and gets into bed with her, strokes and kisses her, and mummers softly, “Everything is going to be all right, dear lady. It’s going to be lovely. We’ll take care of everything.” The son also undresses and gets into the bed with his quite old mother. Readers will ask: What is the significance of the bed scene? Why is the tale called Heirs in the plural when the old woman only has a single son?

Similarly, in the seventh story Singing a man of the village leaves the thirty-some villagers who came to a home to sing together. This is the home of a man and woman whose son committed suicide under their bed, and lay there dead for a day undiscovered. The husband hasn’t gotten over the event, and sits on the side brooding while the others are singing. The visitor also suffers despair. He wanders upstairs, confused, without understanding why he is doing so, enters a bedroom, and thinks: “I had no further reason to turn my back on despair. So I got down on my hands and knees at the foot of the double bed and, rolling back the bedspread, tried to grope with the pale beam of my flashlight into the dark space underneath.” Readers will enjoy reading the artistic descriptions of the events and wondering what is the significance of this man’s act.

In the third vignette Digging we read about the interrelations of an old almost senile, very dissatisfied, fault-finding father; his good-looking, well-groomed daughter, a widow in her mid-forties, a teacher of literature in the village, who patiently cares for her father; and a young Arab student who is writing about relationships, who she allows to live in a hut on her property in exchange for help in repairing her house and property. Her father complains that he hears digging under the house at night. She is certain that he is imagining the noise and changes his medicine. Then the Arab boy asks her about the digging. She sleeps soundly and hears nothing. She decides she should stay up and listen, and she hears the digging as well. What is going on? What is Amos Oz telling us?

In summary, in these vignettes, Amos Oz explores the psyche of people in a small village, such as the puppy love of a seventeen year old boy for a short plump overworked librarian twice his age in Strangers, where the boy rubs up against the older woman, and the psychological and sociological consequences to the two of them. The story is called Strangers because of these consequences. But Oz gives us much more than a fascinating exploration of the mind-set of village people. These people are a mirror that reflects life outside of the village.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
This sad, but hauntingly beautiful, book is composed of stories of individuals who live in the fictitious rural century-old village of Tel Ilan in Israel. Since all of the stories take place within this small village, characters from one story often make cameo appearances in other stories. The
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stories are rich and layered. All except the last one dwell upon the psychological depths of an individual (each different) at a particular place and time. For readers who are familiar with life in Israel, the characters and their feelings seem very familiar. There is no resolution to the issues posed in the stories, a fact which makes each story significantly unsettling.

Although I loved reading most of this book, I was taken aback by the last story (“In a Faraway Place at Another Time”) which seemed totally incongruous with the rest of the book. I just wish it hadn’t been included in this otherwise slim and perfect volume.

My favorite story was “Relations” in which Dr. Gili Steiner, a physician, awaits the arrival of her soldier nephew Gideon, newly released from the hospital following a kidney infection.

This book is a pleasure to read with its poignant and evocative writing. However, I would advise reading this book slowly as there is much to savor in each individual story. Plan to take the time to feel the depths of each one by itself.
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LibraryThing member thorold
This is a very delicate little book, in which nothing much seems to be happening - we get seven snippets from the ordinary lives of ordinary people in a village called Tel Ilan, created as a farming community by Jewish pioneers a century ago, and now slowly turning into a "beauty spot". The
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characters from each story pop up in the background of one or two of the others, but there isn't anything like a connected plot; even within the stories themselves there's no conventional dramatic resolution. And there are borderline strange things going on that are never quite explored or explained. But we learn a good deal from the "throwaway" background details about how small communities work, about families, about the state of Israel and its relationship with its history, about art and work and culture, about life and death and old age, and much else.

Another writer I will have to read more of. And almost a motivation to try to learn Hebrew...
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LibraryThing member franoscar
Spoilers? I'm not sure what I thought. This book is a series of pictures of different people who live in a desert town in Israel. They say it is a "novel in stories" but it doesn't really tell a story. (OK, I know, it doesn't have to, but I'm not sure why call it a novel, rather than connected
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short stories.) It is well-written, of course, but for whatever reason I didn't really find it compelling.
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LibraryThing member steller0707
Just that. Vignettes of life in an old Israeli village. Lives loosely intersect where everyone knows everyone else. The text is lyrical and evocative with characters vividly drawn - the affable mayor, friend to all but distant to his wife, the former MK suspicious of the Arab student lodger, and
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hearing digging under foot at night. Some characters, especially women, yearn to break away. Others, mainly men, yearn to hold on to the past. You can feel the sun beating down, hear the wind through the cypress trees, hear the night sounds of dogs barking and, sometimes, shots ringing out. Somewhere close there is strife and villages that are not so "normal" as the last story describes; but here are ordinary village lives.
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LibraryThing member CarrieWuj
Need to see what others rated it so highly for and what I missed. To me this was a disjointed collection of narratives taking place in a bucolic Israeli village that is on the cusp of change and modernization/monetization. As a result, bizarre things are happening (a stranger comes to town and
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crawls into bed with an old lady, the mayor's wife disappears, there are sounds of digging from underneath the teacher's house, but no evidence of it. None of it is ever resolved or explained. There are tensions between old and new, and considerable consternation about an Arab student living/working on the teacher's farm (and ironing her underwear) and I get that all of this is probably an undercurrent of fear of change and latent nationalism, and is billed as "a memorable novel in stories" with "unsettling glimpses of what goes on beneath the surface of everyday life" but I just couldn't grasp it as a whole.
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Original language


Original publication date

2011-07-14 (English translation)


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