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on 1 February 2014
"Between Friends” written by famous Israeli author Amos Oz is collection of eight stories which describe life in the kibbutz, where Oz had spent part of his youth. His stories, although not directly following each other, share some same characters and describe the many mishaps of people who spend their lives in one of these collective communities.

Kibbutz which is a form of human community appeared early 20th century in Israel, initially based on economic and social equality of members employed in agricultural work, was a kind of utopian collective in which there was no private property, and in a somewhat modified release survived to the present time.

In his book, Oz brings eight stories that occur within such a community, immediately after the World War II, and the symbolism of this collection is that it begins and ends with the motif of death, which is a symbolic way for the author to talk about dying utopia whose product, at least originally, was a kibbutz.

The author discusses the different daily episodes through which describes the atmosphere that reigned within the kibbutz members, their mutual relations, doubts and questioning themselves and others, showing absolutely unstoppable progress in human thinking that without self-actualization and fulfillment of their own desires there are no opportunities for the happiness of the individual.

It's hard to single out one or even a few stories because each of these eight is special in their own way; in the first "The King of Norway” we will meet a single person obsessed with the bad news that is afraid of intimacy; "Two Women" in the eponymous story chat after man left one of them and came to live with the other; story by which the collection was named, "Between Friends”, describes unusual event in which seventeen year old girl went to live with his thirty years older teacher and her father comes to their apartment to speak with her trying to return her home; story "Father” which in itself seems to have the most autobiographical elements brings an emotional story about the boy who visits his ailing father, the only remaining parent; "Little Boy", probably the saddest of all stories in which we meet the little boy Yoav which is five years old, and just like his father cannot be reconciled with the rigid kibbutz rules that during the night kids cannot be with their parents, but with other, sometimes very cruel, peers in the dormitory; "At Night" provides the reader an opportunity to learn about the unusual events of one night when kibbutz general secretary conducts the night watch; "Deir Ajloun" tells the story of a young Yotam who gets a call from a fugitive member of the kibbutz to come to him to Italy, for the high education fully paid, but the question is what will general assembly say on that; and the last story "Esperanto" that tells the story of one of the oldest kibbutz members, a man who survived the Holocaust and who was once a teacher of Esperanto whose death will end the story and the whole collection.

Looking at the summaries of each story is obvious that the author tells about many, sometimes controversial, aspects of life in the kibbutz, and his stories evoke a wide range of human emotions and are thought-provoking.

Although its scope is not a monumental like previous “A Tale of Love and Darkness” Amos Oz with this collection small in scope manages to say a lot about people and human relationships.

Therefore, his last work "Between Friends” as well as all his previously published, can certainly be recommended for reading.
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on 6 April 2014
This book is composed of eight short stories told with biblical simplicity that could each stand alone but are in fact linked by a theme : life on a kibbutz and the various characters that appear and reappear. They are very well thought out - humane, poignant stories of dilemmas in a world where everything in theory is decided democratically in a commune of equals.

Obviously enough, matters of the heart cannot be decided democratically. However, there are other situations where the democratic approach seems equally inane and oblivious to the singular human need for a certain permission or exoneration. Amos Oz exploits the gaps that do occur in such a society where the application of common sense solutions cannot always be easily made.

The book is full of pathos and ironic humour, filled with lyrical and concrete details and taken in isolation is - broadly speaking - a delightful read. (I qualify with "broadly speaking" because there is a gratuitous description of a puppy dying, crushed under the wheel of a bus, and a relevant but equally horrifying account of a deranged, distraught father "yanking a quiet gentle boy from under his blanket and slapping his face savagely over and over again until the boy's nose began to bleed and his head banged against the wall". This is surely playing to the gallery)

Amos Oz is an author of distinction, much honoured and acclaimed and a Professor of Literature to boot. He has written an outstanding autobiographical novel "A Tale of Love and Darkness" on a much broader canvas. Here I cannot but have the impression that Oz is merely ticking over on four cylinders like a large eight cylinder limousine economising in town traffic !
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...or was it?

Americans can become nostalgic for the "Eisenhower `50's," when life seemed to be better and simpler, and when many could leave their front doors unlocked, day and night. Conveniently erased from memory was living in a "target city," like Pittsburgh, and crouching under a school desk during a "nuclear war drill," as though that desk would do any good. Not to mention, polio, and various other illnesses with no treatment.

Amos Oz, along with David Grossman, are quintessential Israeli authors. I have read numerous works of both, and have reviewed Oz's In the Land of Israel (Flamingo),Fima and The Slopes of Lebanon. Oz appears to have reached a point in his life (74), when reflections on the `50's era in Israeli are not only appropriate, but necessary. Oz moved into kibbutz Hulda, in 1954, after the suicide of his mother, and thus was able to obtain the material for these interlinking short-stories on kibbutz life, only thinly fictionalized. His primary focus is on the human condition, but lurking in the background, and deftly included in the stories, are the political and social forces that continue to haunt Israel today. But in the forefront is his understanding of the human condition, and how those undid the "dream" of the kibbutz movement, of creating a more equitable and fairer society.

Oz commences, fittingly enough, with the personification of one of the essential myths related to the founding of the country: we found an empty desert, and turned it green. It is the gardener, Zvi Provizor, who literally is turning much of the kibbutz green. Being a real person though, he does have a few quirks, such as being a "disaster groupie." He intently listens to the news throughout the day, ready to pick up the latest ferry sinking with 300 lost lives, massacre in some far off land, etc... and convey it to the other members of the kibbutz. Provizor goes out of his way to avoid touching another human, so what of his relationships with women?

Another character who weaves through several stories is David Dagan, the school's headmaster. He is a dedicated Marxist, and provides much of the ideological "correct-thinking" for the kibbutz. When in a disagreement with another member, his standard tactic is: "...interrupting and asking for just a minute to set things straight." He is a collector (and discarder) of women, including the daughter of his friend, whose story is the title to the book. For all the ideological façade of gender equality, Oz does bring out, via Dagan, the reality which was also espoused by a different ideological "guru," Stokley Carmichael, who proclaimed that the position of women in our movement is on their backs (and, as Oz adds, doing the laundry.) And then there is the seemingly eternal (or is it only two generations?) division between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. Dagan says: "On the whole, I have a very optimistic view of the Sephardim. We'll have to invest a great deal in them, but the investment will pay off. In another generation or two, they'll be just like us." Said like many an American, on an aid mission to a "developing country."

Roni Shindlin is the sharp-tongued, witty gossip-monger of the kibbutz, introduced early, and later Oz treats the reader to his relationship with his wife Leah, and 5-year old son, Oded. Nina has had enough of the snoring (and other flaws) of her paratrooper husband, and aches for an alternative. Moshe, a young Sephardi, longs to see his father, who lives outside the kibbutz, and may be the most sympathetic character in the book (and an alter-ego for Oz?). In Moshe's story, the author quietly touches on the divisions between the secular and religious Jews.

And there is much, much else. The author has packed a tremendous amount of insight into these short stories. Is he Israel's Alice Munro, or is it the other way around? There are no nostalgic, rose-colored glasses through which Oz reflects back on the `50's. His insights and his ability as a writer remains not only undiminished, but seem to have further matured. 5-stars, plus.
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on 25 November 2013
"On our kibbutz, Kibbutz Yekhat, there lived a man, Zvi Provizor, a short fifty-five year old bachelor who had a habit of blinking. He loved to transmit bad news: earthquakes, plane crashes, buildings collapsing on their occupants, fires and floods."

With these opening two sentences I am there. I know <u>exactly</u> who Zvi Provizor is, and I know who we're dealing with in the opening story of Amos Oz's latest collection of short stories. These are a series of eight vignettes set in a fictional collective settlement of late '50s or early '60s Israel. It's a place that the reader will come to know surprisingly well for so slim a volume. The tales are above all about humanity.

I lived on a kibbutz once for several years, and no one of those communities is quite like another. That said, there are though certain traits and themes and character types that do tend to crop up in every one I ever encountered or heard about. Oz has captured with an amazing economy of words, and a clarity that is so satisfying, precisely who might live there and what preoccupies them.

In "The King of Norway" our blinking bachelor Zvi and Luna Blank, a widow, fall into a new routine - talking every evening. "Two Women" exchange letters - Osnat the launderess has recently become separated, and Ariella, who works in the chicken coop and heads the culture committee, is the tall, slim divorcée to whom Boaz has run. The title story sees Nahum, a widower of about fifty, approaching the subject of his only remaining child, Edna, having moved in with David Dagan, a teacher and one of the kibbutz founders and leaders - a man his own age.

"Father" is a story which I think is the most autobiographical: Sixteen year old Moshe is a 'boarder' newly arrived at Yekhat after his mother has died, and father and now uncle have both fallen ill. With the greatest poignancy we see Moshe finish work early one day and make the difficult trip to visit his ailing father. To anyone who has read Oz's 'A Tale of Love and Darkness' - this is a glimpse of what might have happened next. I was extremely moved.

"Little Boy" is another heartbreaker: The emotional volatility of the shared children's housing hits dad Roni in a way that doesn't quite affect mum Leah the same way. "At Night" sees Yoav the kibbutz general secretary turn night guard for the week. Nina needs his help with a problem that won't wait until morning. In "Deir Ajloun", Yotam the young adult son of another widow, Henia, receives an invitation from Uncle Arthur to study in Milan. Whatever will the general assembly have to say?

The final story, "Esperanto", is about an older member of the kibbutz - Martin, a holocaust survivor who hid from the Nazis in Holland. Martin is the community shoemaker and is a former Esperanto teacher; he has trouble breathing and is dying. He is an anarchist to the very end:

"And once, when two brisk nurses came in to change his pyjamas, he grinned suddenly and told them that death itself was an anarchist. 'Death is not awed by status, possessions, power or titles; we are all equal in its eyes.'"

All of the characters we've met are present in this final tale, though they crop up here and there in the other stories - maybe on the path, or making a speech in a meeting - just as they do on any kibbutz. Amos Oz has written a first class and moving collection of interwoven stories. The final mosaic is a piece of art to behold. I had to pace myself to read this book as slowly as I could, I wanted to savour its quality for as long as possible. (Perhaps I should have just torn through it and reread it immediately?) Five stars and highly recommended.
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on 17 May 2015
Fascinating to see what life on the kibbutz did to family and personal relations, and what the expectations of the Israelis were in the early years. Written with great simplicity it conveys the complex and intimate feelings of the Israelis from different origins, in the harsh conditions of hard work and disciplined community life..
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on 1 June 2013
Amos Oz is a master. The delicacy and the wistful empathy of every sentence makes one's heart clench. This is a beautiful collection of stories about the incompleteness of our lives. It happens to be set in the kibbutz of the fifties, but it could be any other place. Read this book. Please.
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on 20 March 2015
Never read anything before by Amos Oz. It is also on a subject I knew little about. That said, it is a charming warm read. I really enjoyed delving into the relationships he builds with the characters.
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on 6 July 2013
Really enjoyed this collection of interlocking stories about a eclectic selection of individuals whose lives are contained within one big home called a kibbutz.
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on 27 May 2013
Having struggled with "scenes from Village Life" this comes as a real pleasure.Gentle, authentic and evocative. A really joy to read.
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on 18 June 2013
Start with Amos Oz. This is a shapely, well written book about an interesting subject. What more do you want
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