2005 Koret Jewish Book Award for Biography, Autobiography and Literary Studies
Synopses & Reviews
Josand#233; Saramago was eighteen months old when he moved from the village of Azinhaga with his father and mother to live in Lisbon. But he would return to the village throughout his childhood and adolescence to stay with his maternal grandparents, illiterate peasants in the eyes of the outside world, but a fount of knowledge, affection, and authority to young Josand#233;.and#160;
Shifting back and forth between childhood and his teenage years, between Azinhaga and Lisbon, this is a mosaic of memories, a simply told, affecting look back into the authorand#8217;s boyhood: the tragic death of his older brother at the age of four; his mother pawning the familyand#8217;s blankets every spring and buying them back in time for winter; his beloved grandparents bringing the weaker piglets into their bed on cold nights; and Saramagoand#8217;s early encounters with literature, from teaching himself to read by deciphering articles in the daily newspaper, to poring over an entertaining dialogue in a Portuguese-French conversation guide, not realizing that he was in fact reading a play by Moliand#232;re.and#160;
Written with Saramagoand#8217;s characteristic wit and honesty, Small Memories traces the formation of an artist fascinated by words and stories from an early age and who emerged, against all odds, as one of the worldand#8217;s most respected writers.
"This memoir/family history brims over with riches: metaphors and poetry, drama and comedy, failure and success, unhappy marriages and a wealth of idiosyncratic characters. Some are lions of the Zionist movement David Ben-Gurion (before whom a young Oz made a terrifying command appearance), novelist S.Y. Agnon, poet Saul Tchernikhovsky others just neighbors and family friends, all painted lovingly and with humor. Though set mostly during the author's childhood in Jerusalem of the 1940s and '50s, the tale is epic in scope, following his ancestors back to Odessa and to Rovno in 19th-century Ukraine, and describing the anti-Semitism and Zionist passions that drove them with their families to Palestine in the early 1930s. In a rough, dusty, lower-middle-class suburb of Jerusalem, both of Oz's parents found mainly disappointment: his father, a scholar, failed to attain the academic distinction of his uncle, the noted historian Joseph Klausner. Oz's beautiful, tender mother, after a long depresson, committed suicide when Oz (born in 1939) was 12. By the age of 14, Oz was ready to flee his book-crammed, dreary, claustrophobic flat for the freedom and outdoor life of Kibbutz Hulda. Oz's personal trajectory is set against the background of an embattled Palestine during WWII, the jubilation after the U.N. vote to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state, the violence and deprivations of Israel's war of independence and the months-long Arab siege of Jerusalem. This is a powerful, nimbly constructed saga of a man, a family and a nation forged in the crucible of a difficult, painful history." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It is impossible to give a full account of this book's riches. Oz has allowed his autobiography to flow along a rocky course, with numerous starts and various endings. Wisely, he does not impose the restrictive method ordered by another of Wonderland's creatures: 'Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end, then stop.' Oz knows that every autobiography is circular and that, even though the writer begins telling his story at the moment when the book must end, the points of entry are legion." Alberto Manguel, The Washington Post
"[An] indelible memoir....[T]his Amos now sees his parents as if they were his children." John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] memoir full of family wisdom, history, and culture....As much as this distinguished book details the lives of the Oz family, it also captures the history of Israel." Library Journal
"A moving, emotionally charged memoir of the renowned author's youth in a newly created Israel." Kirkus Reviews
"Like his fiction, it's full of humour and lovely writing....[T]he main story [is] of Amos and his parents. And here, though humour still touches everything, the darkness of the title prevails....A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS is an important book for students of Amos Oz, and a fascinating one in general." Carole Angier, Literary Review
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.
Winner of the National Jewish Book Award International Bestseller "[An] ingenious work that circles around the rise of a state, the tragic destiny of a mother, a boys creation of a new self." — The New Yorker A family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history. A Tale of Love and Darkness is the story of a boy who grows up in war-torn Jerusalem, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. The story of an adolescent whose life has been changed forever by his mothers suicide. The story of a man who leaves the constraints of his family and community to join a kibbutz, change his name, marry, have children. The story of a writer who becomes an active participant in the political life of his nation. "One of the most enchanting and deeply satisfying books that I have read in many years." — New Republic
A provocative new story collection from the internationally celebrated author of A Tale of Love and Darkness
“Oz lifts the veil on kibbutz existence without palaver. His pinpoint descriptions are pared to perfection . . . His people twitch with life.” — Scotsman
In Between Friends, Amos Oz returns to the kibbutz of the late 1950s, the time and place where his writing began. These eight interconnected stories, set in the fictitious Kibbutz Yekhat, draw masterly profiles of idealistic men and women enduring personal hardships in the shadow of one of the greatest collective dreams of the twentieth century.
A devoted father who fails to challenge his daughter’s lover, an old friend, a man his own age; an elderly gardener who carries on his shoulders the sorrows of the world; a woman writing poignant letters to her husband’s mistress—amid this motley group of people, a man named Martin attempts to teach everyone Esperanto.
Each of these stories is a luminous human and literary study; together they offer an eloquent portrait of an idea and of a charged and fascinating epoch. Amos Oz at home. And at his best.
Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
"One of Mr. Saramago's last books, and one of his most touching," (and#8212;NYT), this posthumous memoir of his childhood, written with characteristic wit and honesty, traces the formation of an individual into an artist, who emerged against all odds as one of the world's most respected writers.
About the Author
was born in Jerusalem in 1939. He is the author of fourteen novels and collections of short fiction, and numerous works of nonfiction. His acclaimed memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness
was an international bestseller and recipient of the prestigious Goethe prize, as well as the National Jewish Book Award. Scenes from Village Life
, a New York Times
Notable Book, was awarded the Prix Méditerranée Étranger in 2010. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Nicholas de Lange is a professor at the University of Cambridge and a renowned translator. He has translated Amos Ozs work since the 1960s.
Table of Contents
The King of Norway 1
Two Women 19
Between Friends 33
Little Boy 81
At Night 101
Deir Ajloun 125
Reading Group Guide
In his review for the New York Times, John Leonard called A Tale of Love and Darkness an “indelible memoir.” Among the indelible images presented by Amos Oz in this masterwork are a childhood marked by marvel; a family of immigrants who crowded Oz’s small Jerusalem apartment to enlighten him in more than a dozen languages; the tumultuous rebirth of Israel; and an award-winning storyteller confronting his most haunting narrative—the tragic fate of his parents’ marriage, culminating in his mother’s suicide. When Amos Oz was awarded the 2004 Prix France Culture for A Tale of Love and Darkness, he described the book’s dual focus in his acceptance speech: “First and foremost, it is a book about the inner side of one small family. It puts forward an ancient riddle: how could two good persons bring about a terrible disaster? . . . .It is also the tragicomedy of all immigrants everywhere. It can also be read as the portrait of an artist as a young man, and a portrait of Israel as a young society. Indeed a very old young society, because the story is set in the years when Israel was one great refugee camp, full of runaways.” Hailed by Robert Alter in the New Republic as “touching, haunting, wrenching, amusing . . . the best book Oz has ever written,” A Tale of Love and Darkness captures an uncommon community of visionaries, revolutionaries, thinkers, and dreamers. We hope that the following questions will enhance your discussion of this mesmerizing literary achievement. Questions and Topics for Discussion 1. The memoir begins with precise descriptions of tangible objects, such as the cumbersome sofa bed where Amos Oz’s parents slept; the pickle jars and the lone lightbulb. What impressions do these initial images convey? What did Oz make of his surroundings when he was a child? What does he see in them now? 2. What do the author’s maternal and paternal ancestries share? What are the greatest sources of contention between the in-laws? How was Oz affected by the stories of his mother’s upbringing among faltering Polish aristocracy (especially those in chapter 25), and his father’s legacies of renowned scholarship in Russia (chapter 15)? 3. The Russian Revolution reverberated in Oz’s childhood, including his parents’ quandary over schooling as they had to choose between “the darkness of the Middle Ages and the Stalinist trap” (page 284). How do Oz’s parents perceive the role of religion and class (especially intelligentsia versus proletariat) in society? Was Judaism integral to all aspects of their identity? 4. Discuss the uneasy relationship with Europe embodied in the refugees Oz describes. How was his father able to reject British occupation yet admire the words of Churchill? To what extent is Oz a product of European culture, though he was not born there? 5. How would you characterize Oz’s childhood personality—a combination of creativity and industriousness, grandiose imaginary war games and a sensitive desire to please perfectly? How would you characterize his parents’ style of child-rearing? Are there recurring themes in his childhood narratives, ranging from being mesmerized by Teacher Zelda (chapter 37) to injured emotionally and physically in the incident at the Silwani family’s house (chapter 41)? What might his childhood have seemed to predict about his future? 6. Chapter 44 includes Oz’s memory of the pivotal United Nations vote that created modern Israel. How did Oz’s memories of this process enhance your understanding of it? As his father emotionally explains what that day means to him, what is being conveyed about nationalism? Is his longing universal, or unique to Israelis? 7. Numerous tragic deaths mark the reality of anti-Semitism in A Tale of Love and Darkness, from Oz’s cousin Daniel Klausner, who was murdered with his parents in Vilna when he was three, to the death of Greta Gat, who was shot by an Arab League sniper in the siege of Jewish Jerusalem in 1948. How does Oz use his role of survivor? How did he and his family cope with the knowledge of such danger, when armed resistance was not part of their nature (Oz’s father was not even able to load the gun issued to him)? What enables the author to see multiple facets of these situations? 8. Literature itself forms a backdrop for A Tale of Love and Darkness, with beautiful images of the Klausners reading passionately, and Fania telling evocative stories that needed no denouement. Oz pays homage to a pantheon of authors, from Tolstoy and Tchernikhowsky to Walt Whitman and Sherwood Anderson. In such a multilingual family, what role did language play in shaping identity? What is the significance of the varieties of Hebrew mentioned by Oz? Which authors recur in your own family’s literary legacy? 9. What literary techniques, such as the way time unfolds and the use of a refrain in the form of a bird singing notes from Beethoven’s Für Elise, enhanced the crafting of this memoir? What might Oz’s parents have thought of it? 10. Discuss Oz’s many vivid descriptions of food. From the perspective of an adult, what does he now understand about his parents’ cuisine—the carp in honor of Sabbaths and festivals, the failed vegetable garden? Was Fania able to nourish her family as she wanted to? 11. Chapter 46 features the appearance of Finnish missionary women. What do they indicate about the West’s varied attitudes toward Israel? Do the missionaries seem realistic? Did Oz receive a realistic account of Jesus from Joseph Klausner? 12. Oz compares the exuberance of Tel Aviv to the gravity of Jerusalem as he travels from his home to visit relatives. How does each locale shape the outcome of his life? 13. On page 215, Oz writes that his mother “might have been able to grit her teeth and endure hardship and loss, poverty, or the cruelty of married life. But what she couldn’t stand, it seems to me, was the tawdriness.” In what way is this the dilemma of many immigrant experiences? Is it possible to find a true “homeland” where one’s complete identity can be fulfilled? By what means have your ancestors weighed the costs of migration and survival? 14. The death of Oz’s mother occurs at a time of life that would traditionally have marked his transition from boyhood to manhood. How does he subsequently describe his approach to relationships with women (and to the experience of love and darkness)? Did his father appear to possess the same quantity of humility in love? 15. What do you believe motivated Oz’s move to the kibbutz? What was he able to determine about his true nature there? How did you react to his meeting with David Ben-Gurion in chapter 52? Did he feel equal or less affinity with his father wwhen he came to visit, bringing an inscribed copy of The Novella in Hebrew Literature no less? 16. To what extent did Oz’s young life reflect that of the young nation of Israel in which he was raised? 17. Oz's memoir mentions the fictional characters and conflicts that arose from some of the events in his life. What parallels do you see between A Tale of Love and Darkness and Oz's previous work? How did the skills honed in his other books, fiction and nonfiction, manifest themselves in such a personal work as this? About the Author Amos Oz is the author of numerous works of fiction and collections of essays. He has received the Prix Femina, the Israel Prize, and the Frankfurt Peace Prize, and his books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in Israel.
Copyright © 2005 Harcourt, Inc.