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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It is not life and death that came into the world as a pair, but sex and death.", 11 April 2009
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rhyming Life and Death (Hardcover)
When the Author, the otherwise unnamed main character of Amos Oz's newest work, arrives as the special guest for a literary evening at a community center in Tel Aviv, he expects the usual sorts of questions from his audience--Why do you write? What role do your books play? How would you define yourself? What his audience never suspects is that the author, while answering their sometimes intrusive questions about himself, is secretly inventing names and imaginary lives for them, connecting them to each other, and even continuing his musings about them well after the meeting is concluded. Approximately thirty-five characters, either in the audience or peripheral to their stories, dominate the Author's interior life, even as the real humans behind these stories are talking with him about his work.

Among these characters is Tsefania Beit-Halachmi (also known as Avraham "Bumek" Schuldenfrei), an (imaginary) elderly poet who is the author of a poetry collection called "Rhyming Life and Death." These poems echo throughout the book--mostly doggerel--as both the narrator/Author and the book's author, Amos Oz, explore serious questions of life and death, and eventually some less serious questions of sex and death.

After the meeting, the Author escorts the unattractive and painfully shy Rochele Reznik home to her apartment, hoping for an evening of passion. His failure leads him to explore the ideas of Arnold Bartok, a part-time philosopher (invented) who has noted that "It is not life and death that came into the world as a pair, but sex and death." Death, Bartok believes, appeared when sexual reproduction was created, and it is sex that has led to aging and death. "We simply have to find a way of eliminating sex," he says, "so as to rid our world of the inevitability of death."

Modernist in approach, Oz plays with the book's form, creating a wide cast of overlapping characters who exemplify his themes, both serious and tongue-in-cheek. The attractive waitress at the café becomes "Ricky," whose boyfriend "Charlie" has also enjoyed the favors of "Lucy," who married the son of Ovadya Hazzam, who won a lottery and is now dying of cancer in a miserable hospital room. Miriam Nehorait, a middle-aged culture lover, may have had a relationship with a sixteen-year-old, hypersensitive young poet in the audience, and they may have been observed by a neighborhood snoop. Other characters are lonely, abandoned, and/or dying.

Though the "novel" blurs the boundaries of reality and imagination and leaves a number of loose ends and undeveloped ideas, Oz provides an unusual and creative meditation on his themes and on the transience of happiness, life, love, and fame. Often darkly humorous and ironic, the author offers few, if any, glimmers of hope for the future. Life is what it is, and though we can escape from reality through dreams and our imaginations, Oz lets us know that sooner or later we must all "turn on the light to clarify what is going on." It is not much to look forward to. "Tomorrow," he tells us, "will be warm and humid, too. And, in fact, tomorrow is today." n Mary Whipple

A Tale of Love and Darkness
Panther in the Basement (A Vintage original)
My Michael
The Amos Oz Reader
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eight hours in the inner world of an author, 23 July 2010
Thomas Cunliffe "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rhyming Life and Death (Paperback)
I was drawn to Rhyming Life and Death when I read on the cover that it reflects on "writing, reading and the elusive chimera of literary posterity" .

Amos Oz is renowned in Israel for his courageous political stance as a secular social-democrat, having lived on a Kibbutz for thirty years and being a leading voice in the peace movement. He has won numerous literary awards. In his latest novel Rhyming Life and Death, Oz addresses the nature of writing fiction by letting his readers in on the internal reflections of the "Author", a fictional writer, who is invited to attend a public reading of his work in Tel Aviv. During the following eight hours we read of his preparation for the reading, the event itself and then his wanderings around the city through the night-time.

The Author sits in a café before the reading, anticipating the questions he is likely to be asked by the audience. His thoughts are distracted by the waitress, with her "shapely, attractive legs". He steals a look at her face, and finds it pleasant, sunny, with her hair tied back with a red rubber band. While he is waiting for his omelette and salad he begins to imagine her life, giving her the name "Ricky" as he writes her personal history in his head. We, the readers, are drawn into the creative process, as "Ricky" takes form before our eyes.

The Author notices two men sitting at an adjacent table, one looking like a gangster's henchman in a film. The Author names him Mr Leon and another story emerges as the Author lets his two new characters create a conversation (imaginary of course), about a man they know who won the lottery, Ovadya Hazzam, and spent all his winnings on cars and Russian blondes and is now dying of cancer.

After eating his meal, the Author makes his way to the Cultural Centre, stories of his new characters running through his mind as he walks. He is met by an elderly bureaucrat who wastes no time in trying to forge a bond with the Author, on the basis of their shared struggle for values of culture and ideas, "strengthening the ramparts of civilisation". The Author is introduced to the audience and the reading commences. A professional reader reads extracts from his work (more of her later), and the Author's mind wanders, looking at individuals in the audience and making up more biographies for them one by one- the young struggling author, a student radical, a trade union official, a culture thirsty woman.

The event comes to an end, and the Author, while not being in the least bit interested in the professional reader, Rochelle Reznik, who has read so many of his words, finds himself manoeuvring to have an encounter with her, by offering to walk her home. The shy and under-confident woman is unable to find the right excuses to avoid getting involved with the Author, and the two lonely people wander around the neighbourhood.

The outcome is mixed up with the fate of all the imaginary characters he has constructed along the way. What is fiction, what is reality, when, as a writer, your daily life is spent solidifying phantoms into flesh and blood.

This book would appeal to anyone who is interested in how fiction comes to be written. It is also a statement about how humans relate to one another, often filling in the gaps in their knowledge with speculation. And finally, it offers some thoughts on what it is to be a male in late middle-age, with fantasy having to substitute for reality when it comes to overcoming loneliness
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing glimpse inside the mind of an author., 11 Oct. 2010
Paul Harris (Llantrisant, Wales) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rhyming Life and Death (Hardcover)
To read this book is to transport yourself temporarily to another place. It is warm and humid, and the air-conditioning is unreliable. Filled with playfulness, 'the Author' is to give a talk at a cultural centre where many have gathered to hear him. Before, during, and after the engagement the Author tells us his thoughts and observations of the people he encounters and imagines, and how the evening transpires.

Arriving early he detours to a nearby cafe, and it becomes clear that this Author is preoccupied with the lives of the others he observes. Amos Oz teases us with the possibilities of those lives - where they live, who they live with, who they loved, what they lost, and even what may slowly be killing them. Later in the night, once the event is over, the Author escorts the professional reader for a walk before saying goodnight to her. What happens beyond that is uncertain. Oz playfully suggests one possibility while ruling out another. Just as things fall neatly into place, he goes back and shows a parallel reality.

I've read a few Oz books now and would say that this one has some passages I'd describe as 'classic Oz'. In places he is definitely in top gear as he supplies depth and intrigue to each and every character's life. At other times though it can feel that he has switched on the cruise control and taken his foot off the gas...

A short book, Oz manages to pack so much in to the story that it feels like much more than has actually been read. The cast is long, and it is wonderful how much substance he manages to convey in so short a time. There are stories within stories here, and the possibilities are endless. All in all a very enjoyable read, and one that will probably reveal more to the reader each time it is rediscovered. An intriguing glimpse inside the mind of an author and how they may see the world around them in all its triviality and beauty.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tour de force, 11 April 2010
Deep Reader - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rhyming Life and Death (Paperback)
This is a tremendous technical and spiritual achievement, the whole of life acted out in one man's head, his part in it and his loneliness, and the book itself an eye on the human condition.
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