A Tale of Love and Darkness

by Amos Oz

Book, 2005

Barcode

123460720

Call number

B ISR OZ

Collections

Publication

Orlando : Harcourt, 2005

Description

"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)

User reviews

LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
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-merited -- title, Amos Oz's memoir moves along at a leisurely pace over over five-hundred plain-spoken yet wonderfully precise
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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.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
This book is intelligent, witty, heartfelt, appealing, and troubling. The author touches on many simple things of everyday life that make his life story unique and have affected his writing. With his superb prose, he puts readers in his own situation thereby giving a sense of what it must have felt
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like to live the life of Amos Oz. There are precious reminiscences, my favorite being his parents and himself on the one phone line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv simply giving a weekly hello to relatives. He relates what it was like to celebrate the night of Israel’s Independence, what it was like to be ushered out of an auditorium after he had laughed at Menachem Begin’s use of the word “to arm”, how in awe he felt to be in the presence of David Ben Gurion, his deep shame at having caused harm to a young Arab boy, and how he became aware of his own political leanings. He also opened his soul in revealing the pain of his mother’s illness and then his loss of her.

I love Oz’s writing. It’s very passionate, but often in a very understated way. This is a truly special book. Enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member thorold
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member annelewis20
An extraordinary social history illuminates how this man came to write and how Israel came into being through the narrative of his family's life in Palestine which became Israel. I absolutely agree with Greg Sheridan, reviewer for the Australian newspaper, that it is the best book I have ever read.
LibraryThing member Miguelnunonave
The only single book that taught me almost everything I know about Israel and the Hebrew culture. Excellent autobiograhy. Poignant, sensitive, extremely relevant to understand the Jewish State and the illusion of creating a new world. Partly historical, partly romance, partly political - yet always
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thoughtful and peaceful vis-à-vis the Arab world. It goes to show how the world would be a better place if ruled by writers and artists. Makes you believe there's hope. It never fails to engage your attention and imagination. Honest writing, where even the abundant details are rarely boring.
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LibraryThing member pnorman4345
A memoir of his early life. It gives a fabulous pictures of all the different cultures that made up Israel. It gives a wonderful picture of a child growing up. ETC
LibraryThing member maykram
Excellent auto biog and well written. The attention to detail is staggering. Mr Oz must have a great memory. The book is overshadowed with sadness, but ultimately this is an uplifting read
LibraryThing member edella
Tragic, comic and incomparable: an autobiographical epic and a comedie humaine for our times, which is both the portrait of an artist and the story of the birth of a nation, spanning several generations and moving with them from Russia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, to Jerusalem.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Amos Oz is considered one of the leading lights of Israeli literature and there's buzz he's a candidate for a Nobel Prize. This particular book, his memoir, "was nominated one of the ten most important books since the creation of the State of Israel." And at times I truly can understand why. The
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man can turn a phrase and some of his insights are as striking as his prose:

That wordatlarge was far away, attractive, marvelous, but to us it was dangerous and threatening. It didn't like the Jews because they were clever, quick-witted, successful, but also because they were noisy and pushy. It didn't like what we were doing here in the Land of Israel either, because it begrudged us even this meager strip of marshland, boulders, and desert. Out there, in the world, all the walls were covered with graffiti: "Yids, go back to Palestine," so we came back to Palestine, and now the worldatlarge shouts at us: "Yids, get out of Palestine."

AND

My father had a sensual relationship with his books. He loved feeling them, stroking them, sniffing them... books then really were sexier than books today: they were good to sniff and stroke and fondle. There were books with gold writing on fragrant, slightly rough leather bindings, that gave you gooseflesh when you touched them, as though you were groping something private and inaccessible, something that seemed to tremble at your touch. And there were other books that were bound in cloth-covered cardboard, stuck with a glue that had a wonderful smell. Every book had its own private, provocative scent. Sometimes the cloth came away from the cardboard, like a saucy skirt, and it was hard to resist the temptation to peep into the dark space between body and clothing and sniff those dizzying smells.

So, why rate the book so low? The best I can describe my experience in reading this book is that it was like being sat tightly wedged on a sofa between two proud parents who are determined to show you the family albums--stacks of them--and natter on and on about each photograph. Maybe I'd have felt differently were this not my first work by Amos and I were already a fan of his. Or if I better knew and cared about Israeli intelligentsia and literati. The political and military figures of Israel's short history I generally know and find interesting. It's certainly an eventful, fascinating history--but for me Amos made this story of him and his family before, during, and after the birth of Israel dull as dirt. The memoir was repetitive and rambling and overlong and I gave it over 200 pages before deciding I didn't want to suffer through 400 more.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
an autobiographical novel of Israeli author written in 2002. It chronicles the author's birth (in Jerusalem in 1939) during the British occupation and the birth of the nation in 1948. I think this work is more that a mere autobiographical novel of the author, it is also a biography of the birth of
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a nation. I enjoyed reading this work though it did not read fast for me. in the end it just got to be a bit too much. I enjoyed learning the history of this time period and learned a lot but the book is also even more. Written by the author as an adult, it is not chronological so much as bits and pieces of him memory of events. Here's a quote from page 390, "Memory deludes me. I have just remembered something that I completely forgot after it happened. I remembered it again when I was about sixteen, and then I forgot it again. And this morning I remembered not the event itself but the previous recollection, which itself was more than forty years ago, as though an old moon were reflected in a windowpane from which it was reflected in a lake, from where memory draws not the reflection itself, which no longer exists, but only its whitened bones." and "living memory, like ripples in water or nervous quivering of a gazelle's skin in the moment before it takes flight, comes suddenly and trembles in a single instant in several rhythm". I enjoyed the author's comments on writing and words and the insights in how and what made him an author. I also liked this story because of the story of Jews returning to the homeland, their experiences in Europe and what brought them back to the middle east before WWII and also the birth pangs of a new country. The tension of waiting in the night as the United Nations determined their fate and then the terrible abuse by British and Arabs after the UN passed the resolution giving Israel the right to be a country. Finally, Oz explores his childhood, his relationship to his father and his relationship to his mother who suffered from depression.

OPENING LINE: I was born and bred in a tiny, low ceilinged ground-floor flat.

QUOTES:
But all of them, Tolstoyans and Dostoevskians alike, in our neighborhood of Keren Avraham worked for Chekhov.

Facts have a tendency to obscure the truth.

Success flows from perspiration, and inspiration from diligence and effort.

I wandered dizzily through virtual forests, forests of words, huts of words, meadows of words.

...a magic piper who draws the desperate and lonely into the folds of his silken cloak. The ancient serial killer of disappointed souls.

....yellow electricity pouring out like glue that's so thick it's hard to spill, it can hardly move, it can barely make its heavy way, the way viscous liquids do; dull and yellow and slow, it advances like heavy motor oil across the evening, which is a little gray-blue now, and the breeze stirs and licks it for a moment.

...while it was true that books could change with the years just as much as people could, the difference was that whereas people would always drop you when they could no longer get any advantage or pleasure or interest or at least a good feeling from you, a book would never abandon you.

There were lots of great lines and word use in this book such as "arguing with an angry chorus of dogs", "whole parliament of sparrows", and "inhaling silence like a smell".

The question for me is why is this included as a book you must read before you die? It was added after the first edition and it has retained its position. It really isn't fiction though memoirs are never fully literal either. It's important to me was to read about the European Jews who left Europe before Hitler started killing them. I liked reading about what it felt like as hey waited to hear if they would get to be a country. I also learned a lot about the painful childhood of Amos Oz who wanted to grow up to be a book and later states, "I killed off my father" referencing his decision to change his name to Oz. The author has taken the somewhat unpopular stance that there should be two countries, Arab and Jew. It's a long list of authors, books and literary mentions in this book. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson was the inspiration that launched his career.
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LibraryThing member ivanfranko
Spectacularly good historical autobiography of Amos Oz from birth in 1939, and family life in the formative years of the Palestine Mandate Territory through to the foundation of Israel.
Firstly as a personal record of those years I found the book invaluable. Secondly, this wonderful translation
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from Hebrew offers a moving story of Jewish life in a new continent. The story focuses on the struggle to adapt to the formation of a new country where the old mentalities of European Jews must be reinvigorated for Israel to prosper.
As a teenager this conflict sees Amos leave home (a few years after his mother's desperately sad suicide), change his name to Oz and join a kibbutz, much against the family traditional view of what his future should be. It is as a kibbutzim that Oz finds his gift as a writer and in an odd way reinforces the great tradition of literary scholarship that brought his forebears fame.
An important book to read.
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LibraryThing member suesbooks
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.
LibraryThing member evatkaplan
EXCELLENT WRITING!!!

Amos Oz's memoir of growing up in Israel from before war of independence till ...An only child prodigy, mother commits suicide, Arab Israel Conflict, moving to a kibbutz
LibraryThing member nmele
Until now, I have never read anything by Amos Oz. After reading his memoir, I intend to read whatever I can find. This book is complex and works on many levels: as family history, as a history of the foundation of the state of Israel through a child's eyes, and as an exploration of that family
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history and especially his parents' marriage and his mother's suicide when Oz was 12 years old. I could not put this book down, no matter how dark the events he relates. At times comic, at times analytic, at times poetic and at times tragic, this is a book for everyone.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I found Amos Oz's "A Tale of Love and Darkness" to be a mostly interesting, though not always enjoyable read. The book straddles the line somewhere between novel and memoir as Oz tells the story of his family, along with the history behind the creation of Israel.

Like a broken thread in a sweater,
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Oz picks throughout the book at one of the central events of his life: his mother's suicide. It is there looming throughout much of the book. I found this is where Oz excelled -- in his description of his relationships with both of his parents. I found other parts of the book a bit tedious, especially some of the repetitive bits.

Overall, this was a hard book for me to rate. There were parts that I raced through and others that I struggled through. I think, mainly, because the subject matter isn't something I'm really drawn to reading about.
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Original language

Hebrew

Original publication date

2002

ISBN

015603252X / 9780156032520

Local notes

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