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Customer Review

58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Less a memoir, more a work of art., 30 Nov. 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: A Tale of Love and Darkness (Hardcover)
This wide ranging book is describes as a memoir, but it is more a poetic elegy to the birth of Israel and one man's development into a writer. Amos Oz charts the forces of love and darkness that shape the land of Israel and his own character.
He delves deep back into his family ancestry, back to his grandfathers and grandmothers and back to the old folklore and Jewish customs of prewar Eastern Europe. He describes the ambivalent nature of Jewish relations with the Slavic people in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia and the growth of the Zionist ideal among the Ashkenazi Jews. Oz relates the story of the escape of both sets of grandparents to Palestine, so avoiding the fate of his other relatives such as his cousin Daniel, the same age as the writer. The dark forests of Russian folklore were the scene of many Nazi atrocities particularly in the Ukraine, from where his mother's family originated.
The central figures in the book are his parents and himself as a precocious child surrounded by intellectual academics such as Uncle Joseph and many other colourful friends and grandparents, as they build new lives in the Jewish homeland. The young Amos has many encounters in wartorn Jerusalem with other characters including Arab children and adults. The small boy fantasizes about playing wargames with the unpopular British, who in 1947 were controlling Palestine. When the war of Independence comes in 1948 and the British leave, the sense of danger and vulnerability are well documented.
And yet the central heart of the book is personal tragedy, as Oz heartrendingly describes the breakdown of his mother and his father's doomed efforts to save her. His parents come across as two well meaning, loving people interested passionately in words and literature. His father is however disappointed in his career and seeks to fill in long family silences with words. The dark forces of disappointment,nostalgia and other unresolved issues overwhelm his mother and lead to her tragic suicide.
The book is a triumphant testimony to the creation of a young nation born in blood and surviving against all expectations. Oz survives too the fragility of his own childhood and the weight of parental hopes borne down upon his young shoulders. He finally realises his dream of joining a kibbutz by escaping from the cramped and ghost-ridden flat in Jerusalem. On Kibbutz Hulda he lives the life of an agricultural worker, becoming part of the new generation of Jewish pioneers. He also changes his European name to a Hebrew name. The love of words which he inherits from his parents proves his salvation and he becomes a writer of everyday events on the kibbutz and elsewhere.
In this fascinating book Oz reveals the ideas and the writers that influenced his early life and those ideas that he reacted against. He also describes encounters with the architects of the new Israel, who were responsible for the modern Israeli mentality.This is different to the mentality of his parents and grandparents, who were scarred by the years of loss and exile. He writes all this in a clear and elegant prose. This book will engage anyone who is interested in Israel and the Middle East, but can be read equally as one man's own remarkable story.
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