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Panther In The Basement (A Vintage original) Paperback – 7 Aug 1997

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (7 Aug. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099754010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099754015
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 0.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 548,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Countries need writers as their voices of conscience; few have them. Israel has Oz" (Washington Post)

"One of the greatest prose writers in contemporary fiction" (The Times)

"Amos Oz is a great writer because he tells stories about real people in a way that no one else can" (Alan Sillitoe)

"He has that mixture of lyrical intensity, utter seriousness and capacity for describing life in a few words which characterises some of the best Russian authors" (Melvyn Bragg)

"There are times when you are reminded what it means to be in the presence of a genius...with Amos Oz you have to add wisdom and hope too" (Scotsman)

Book Description

In the last years of British rule in Jerusalem, a lonely, bookish Israeli boy befriends a British soldier in this tale of friendship in the face of enmity.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Book.Reader on 22 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
I started reading Oz's book by accident, really. Having read "Touch the Water, Touch the Wind" a while ago, and hating it till today, I was completely taken aback by the brilliance of this short novel. The language is beautiful (big bravos for the translation), the characters real and each one of them with its mysterious past that's become bit of a taboo for the kids of Jerusalem in 1947. Even the protagonists knows very little about his parents' pre-World-War-II lives. Being only 12 years old, he doesn't understand, although he thinks he does, the political turmoil around him. Yet we, the readers, can see it clearly. The book has a comfortable mellow pace and simply reads like a dream. One of those books you might reread in a few years time, and then again, and then again....
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By steve@wbr.co.uk on 27 Aug. 2000
Format: Paperback
The first person narrator opens the work with the line "I have been called a traitor many times in my life. The first time was when I was twelve and a quarter..." - Oz is able to combine the joys and challenges of being a twelve year old boy with the problems of modern Israel. The novel beautifully creates the feeling of 1947 Jerusalem and is suffused with Oz's humanity. The translation is also excellent.
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By Inge Birgit Due Stern on 20 Sept. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
good read, surprising story. fun. wonderful wordsmith.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 23 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A deceptively simple meditation on ethnic hatred. 14 Dec. 1998
By Kathleen T. Choi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
1947 Jerusalem - "Proffy," age 12, spends his days recreating famous battles on his living room floor and plotting with two friends the overthrow of the British occupation. His firm conviction that all British are evil, however, is shaken when he meets Sgt. Stephen Dunlop. Dunlop is an overweight, asthmatic, lonely man who loves Israel and longs to speak her language better. Convincing himself that teaching Dunlop Hebrew is a form of espionage, Proffy begins regular meetings with Dunlop.
Proffy's friends, however, declare the meetings treason. This forces the intellectual boy to think long and hard about what constitutes an enemy and why wars begin in the first place. Both Proffy and Dunlop love the Bible. In fact, Dunlop's greatest desire is to read the Bible in Hebrew. He shares Proffy's conviction that God wants Israel belong to the Jews. How can such a man be an enemy?
Oz is one of Israel's most famous authors. Clearly this novel is as much about Israel's present conflict with the Palestinians as it is about the wars of his youth. Proffy's friend said, "Loving the enemy is the height of treachery." Yet that is what Jesus commanded. Panther in the Basement, then, is a novel as much for Christians as Jews, and I heartily recommend it. Kathleen T. Choi, HAWAII CATHOLIC HERALD
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"Anyone branded a traitor is a traitor forever" 29 Dec. 2004
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The state of Israel created in 1948 has given birth to new warriors, to young men and women who refuse to entertain the annihilation suffered by their relatives led to slaughter. The land is in flux, anxiously preparing for the end of the British Occupation.

Proffi lives in a time of epiphany, the fears and caution of his childhood soon to turn into self-reliance and pride. Proffi's summer is pivotal, the simplicity of childhood but a chapter in his life, a boy who already registers the nuances, the many facets of human behavior, even in the British occupiers.

Surrounded by history, Proffi lives in an environment that venerates the written word, the accumulation of knowledge; his father's bookshelves reach to the ceiling, smelling of must and old paper, a most heady perfume. A solitary child, Proffi daily recreates great military battles, using whatever is handy to plan each new siege once his parents have left for the day. And every day, an hour later, Proffi's two friends, Ben Hur and Chita Reznik arrive to assist in strategizing campaigns and plan forays aimed at the British Occupation, the boys members of a secret organization, FOD, Freedom or Death.

Life is good, Proffi's world defined by sundry battles and a newly awakened curiosity about the female sex, until he discovers an accusation painted on the wall: traitor. Required to appear before the FOD the next afternoon, Proffi must answer the serious charge. "Instead of a panther in the basement, they saw me as a knife in the back." Indeed, the boy is guilty of fraternizing with the enemy, one hapless and friendly Sergeant Dunlop. Proffi and the soldier have been meeting at a local cafe, each learning the language of the other, a secret and innocent pleasure.

This is a coming-of-age story set in the fulcrum of history, as a young boy navigates the mysteries of life in a world defined by the Holocaust and the reverberations felt around the globe from that infamous event. Proffi is confronted with the challenges of friendship in a new context, one that requires a different perspective, leaving childhood behind and ushering in a future defined by personal choices and a new-found sense of self.

This small novel is a gem, the brilliant analysis of a pivotal moment in a boy's life caught on the cusp of past and future. The author's descriptions are lyrical and visual, both the emotional journey undertaken by Proffi, the familiarity of a home filled with row upon row of treasured books and a family who understands the impermanence of time. Life awaits, but childhood still beckons seductively. Luan Gaines/2004.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Worth Every Cent 23 Oct. 2004
By Marie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is hard to fully appreciate until you've read it several times. I read it in Hebrew, and I have to admit that Oz must be one of the greatest Israeli authors. The word play (I don't know how well it came out in the English translation), childish and powerfully metaphoric all at once, of a boy growing up in a developing Jerusalem, with his internal struggles reflected in the entire Jewish history, forms one of the most poignant books I have ever read.

On a personal note, I grew up in a Jerusalem of the 1980s, a city full of life, completely developed, with cultural centers, theaters, malls, parks, opera houses, etc. Reading this book has made me truly conscious of and made me truly appreciate the immense amount of change and progress Jerusalem has gone through in the past few decades.

Also recommended - A Tale of Love and Darkness, although I don't know how it came out in the English translation.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
such is our story: it comes from darkness, wanders around, and returns to darkness 19 Aug. 2006
By Aleksandra Nita-Lazar - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One day, Proffi sees the words "low-down traitor" painted on his wall, and next thing he knows, he is summoned to a trial for his treachery. What is he guilty of?

Proffi is a twelve-year old boy from Jerusalem. It is 1947 and Israel is on the verge of independence. The British are still in the country and as they prepare to leave, everyone is speculating what is going to happen. We get to know the situation from Proffi's point of view (he, as an adult, is the narrator), and, although he is a library rat and an unusually intelligent (bookish intelligence though) boy, who likes to play with words and loves encyclopedias, obviously he does not understand everything. With his two friends, they are obsessed with the war and form an underground unit, playing heroes of the Israeli liberation movement which is the authority accusing him now of treachery.

Proffi wonders on the subject of treachery, war, freedom, enemy (Sergeant Dunlop is the person who he befriends on the "enemy" side), but also on the usual subjects the boy of twelve could think about - women, friendship, his own future. His interpretations of the things he sees are often wrong, but his intuition is usually right. That is the source of his doubts and the reason for a lot of real philosophical, universal questions that are tackled in this compact novel. Proffi recalls the events as he remembers them, but it is obvious that he - unconsciously- learns a lot during that summer (pay attention to the words of Yardena, which he completely misunderstands at the time!).

"Panther in the Basement" talks about the basic, human feelings and deals with issues everyone wonders about, however its setting in Israel at the historically crucial point is essential.

Amos Oz is one of the writers who possess the ability of talking without unnecessary embellishments about important matters and do not repeat themselves or autoplagiarize.
His books stay with the reader for a long time and I have a feeling that they are timeless and will be read for years to come.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
"A panther in the basement, seething with oaths and vows." 21 Sept. 2004
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Seeing himself as "panther in the basement," much like Tyrone Power in a favorite old film, Proffi, the 12-year-old son of activist parents in Jerusalem in 1947, is a member of an "underground cell" which he and two friends have formed. Their objective, like that of their parents, is the ouster of the British, who have been mandated by the UN to set up a Jewish homeland. Though the children enjoy "spying" and see themselves as glorious heroes, their plans of attack are distinctly childish. When Proffi finds himself drawn to Sgt. Stephen Dunlop, a gentle, shy British soldier from Canterbury, who wants to learn Hebrew and to teach Proffi English, Proffi justifies this friendship as his chance to probe for information for his own "secret DOD agency."

Declared by his friends Ben Hur and Chita Reznik to be a "lowdown traitor" when this relationship is discovered, Proffi feels isolated, at a crossroads in his life. Jerusalem is under constant curfews, the British are searching houses for weapons, his parents are involved in an underground movement, and he himself is beginning to become interested in girls--at least in Yardena, the nineteen-year-old sister of Ben Hur. As we come to know her, the people of the neighborhood, and the people important to Proffi, such as Mr. Gihon, his teacher, we see Proffi's knowledge and insights to be those of a twelve-year-old child whose belief in a bright future is absolute.

The powerful, often poetic language of this coming-of-age novel, along with its lively humor and warm understanding of human nature, make this an unforgettable novel of great universality. Told by an adult narrator who accurately captures Proffi's youthful viewpoint, the novel paints a picture of a loving, scholarly family seeking peace and knowledge, even as they actively try to expel "perfidious Albion." As we watch their interchanges with each other, with Proffi, and with British soldiers, we see them as decent people who want to be left in peace in a homeland of their own, to recover from the traumas of the Holocaust. Filled with gorgeous sense impressions and images (the description of the father's library is stunning), the novel draws in the reader with its contagious warmth and good humor. Written by Israel's most highly regarded novelist, this short novel is an eloquent and elegant testament to enduring values. Mary Whipple
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