Sunday, January 15, 2006

Amos Oz: A Tale of Love and Darkness

Ironically I was (belatedly) given this book for my birthday while I was reading Eggers' memoirs. So, although I usually never read memoirs/biographies I've now read two, one right after the other.

I've never read anything by Oz before - I'd never even heard of him until recently, when I read a review of this very book in the paper (the Swedish translation just came out). He does seem an interesting author though, so I might look for his novels at the library some time. Although then I have the dilemma of choosing which language to read him in - English, like the first one I read, or Swedish, which is more likely to be available...

Just like Eggers, Oz writes about the death of a parent/his parents. But where Eggers immediately throws us into the room where his mother is watching TV while dying of cancer, Oz doesn't even mention the tragedy of his mother's death (suicide) until a good bit in. He writes about his childhood and the history of his family, about being Ashkenazi in Israel's childhood, about the insular community they were then. These are this book's strenghts, how he explains the birth of the Israeli state and the mindset of the Diaspora Jews compared to the New Hebrew. All the dreams and ideals. Having been to Palestine and Israel this summer it's also extremely interesting to read about the different opinions different groups of Israelis/Jews have... I can't concentrate enough at the moment to be more analytic, suffice it to say that reading this book it helped to have been there, to have experienced the dust, the heat, the smallness of the country, the suspicions, the fear, the food.

If I have to choose which book is better, I'd have to say Eggers'. Possibly because I can relate to it more. Possibly because he bares everything, gives us all his feelings and shortcomings, and only rarely goes on and on about his professional acheivements and so on. In my opinion Oz deos this a little too often... I get the feeling he could have used a better editor, someone to better balance the personal with the historical. Also, I would swear that Oz repeats himself quite often and tells us the same anecdotes more than once. This is even more ironic as hehas related how his father would do the same, and I can't believe that no-one picked up on it? Am I imagining it? I don't think so.

Another editing issue: there are many cases where Polish names are misspelled and Russian words used by his relatives mis-transcribed and translated. I thought I was going slightly cracked when he referred to the Polish "3d of May Street" as "Ulica Czecziego Maya". I had to ask my husband to help me confirm that I wasn't mad, it should be Trzeciego Maja. This is just such a stupid mistake. Czecziego is a word you can't even pronounce in Polish. And then I was reminded that another Polish name had been mangled repeatedly in McCall Smith's 2½ Pillars of Wisdom - he meets a Polish boy called Tadeusz. For the whole chapter he's written (or some idiot has "corrected" his writing) Tadseuz. Why? Why do people not check these things before they send books off to the printers? *sigh*

Ranting aside, it's a good book and well worth the read. My favourite bits are when his Aunt Sonia talks about their growing up in Rovno, those chapters are well crafted and flow nicely. It's also very moving to read about his mother's illness, but he does seem afraid to delve too deeply into the pain, and the ending feels almost rushed.

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