Reflections on a more optimistic and idealistic time...,
This review is from: Between Friends (Hardcover)
...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.