Oz, Amos 1939–
Oz, Amos 1939–
PERSONAL: Given name Amos Klausner; born May 4, 1939, in Jerusalem, Israel; son of Yehuda Arieh (a writer) and Fania (Mussman) Klausner; married Nily Zuckerman, April 5, 1960; children: Fania, Gallia, Daniel. Education: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, B.A., 1963; St. Cross College, Oxford, M.A., 1970.
ADDRESSES: Office—Ben Gurion University Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel. Agent—Mrs. D. Owen, 28 Narrow St., London E 14, England.
CAREER: Writer, 1962–. Hulda High School, Givat Brenner, Israel, teacher of literature and philosophy, 1963–86; visiting fellow, St. Cross College, Oxford University, 1969–70; writer-in-residence, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1975–76, and 1990, and Colorado College, 1985; University of California—Berkeley, visiting professor, 1980; visiting professor and writer-in-residence, Boston University, and Princeton University, both 1987; Ben Gurion University Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel, professor, 1986–. Has worked as a tractor driver, youth instructor, school teacher, and agricultural worker at Kibbutz Hulda, Israel. Military service: Israeli Army, 1957–60; also fought as reserve soldier in the tank corps in Sinai, 1967, and in the Golan Heights, 1973.
MEMBER: PEN, Peace Now, Academy of Hebrew Language, Catalan Academy of the Mediterranean.
AWARDS, HONORS: Holon Prize for Literature, 1965; Israel-American Cultural Foundation award, 1968; B'nai B'rith annual literary award, 1973; Brener Prize, 1978; Officier de l'Ordre des Art et des Lettres, 1984; Bialik Prize, 1986; Prix Femina, 1988; Wingate Prize, 1988; International Peace Prize, German Publishers Association, 1992; Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (France), 1997; Israel Prize for Literature, 1998; Goethe Prize, the city of Frankfurt, Germany, 2005, for his "literary output and impressive moral responsibility"; honorary degrees from Hebrew Union College, Western New England College, and Tel Aviv University.
Artzot ha' tan (short stories), Massada (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1965, translation by Nicholas de Lange and Philip Simpson published as Where the Jackals Howl, and Other Stories, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1981.
Makom acher (novel), Sifriat Po'alim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1966, translation by Nicholas de Lange published as Elsewhere, Perhaps, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1973.
Michael sheli (novel), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1968, translation with Nicholas de Lange published as My Michael, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.
Ad mavet (two novellas), Sifriat Po'alim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1971, translation with Nicholas de Lange published as Unto Death, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1975.
Laga'at ba'mayim, laga'at ba'ruach (novel), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1973, translation with Nicholas de Lange published as Touch the Water, Touch the Wind, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1974.
Anashim acherim (anthology; title means "Different People"), Ha'Kibbutz Ha'Meuchad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1974.
Har he'etza ha'raah (three novellas), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1976, translation with Nicholas de Lange published as The Hill of Evil Counsel, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1978.
Soumchi (juvenile), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1978, translation with Penelope Farmer published as Soumchi, Harper (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Be' or ha'tchelet he'azah (essays), Sifriat Po'alim (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1979, translation by Nicholas de Lange published as Under this Blazing Light: Essays, Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge (New York, NY), 1995.
Menucha nechonah (novel), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1982, translation by Hillel Halkin published as A Perfect Peace, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1985.
Po ve'sham b'eretz Yisra'el bistav 1982 (nonfiction), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1983, translation by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura published as In the Land of Israel, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1983.
(Editor, with Richard Flantz and author of introduction) Until Daybreak: Stories from the Kibbutz, Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1984.
Mi-mordot ha-Levanon (essays), Am Oved (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1987, translation by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura published as The Slopes of Lebanon, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1989.
Black Box (novel), translation by Nicholas de Lange, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1988.
La-dat Ishah, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1989.
To Know a Woman, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.
Ha-Matsav ha-Selishi, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1991.
Fima, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Shetikat ha-Shamayim, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1993.
Al Tagidu Layla, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1994, translation by Nicholas de Lange published as Don't Call It Night, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1996.
Israel, Palestine, and Peace: Essays, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Panther in the Basement, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1997.
Kol ha-tokvot: Mahashavot 'al zehut Yi'sre'elit (title means "All Our Hopes"), Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1998.
The Story Begins: Essays on Literature, translated by Maggie Bar-Tura, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.
The Silence of Heaven: Agnon's Fear of God, translated by Barbara Harshay, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2000.
The Same Sea, translated by Nicholas de Lange, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2001.
Sipur 'al ahavah ve-hoshekh, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 2002, translation by Nicholas de Lange published as A Tale of Love and Darkness, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.
Be-'etsem yesh kan shete milhamot, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 2002.
(With Izzat Ghazzawi) Enemies: A Love Affair, Swirid-off (Künzelsau, Germany), 2002.
Editor of Siach lochamium (translated as "The Seventh Day"). Contributor of essays and fiction to Israeli periodicals, including Davar, and to journals such as Encounter, Guardian, and Partisan Review.
Oz's books have been translated into over fifteen languages, including Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, and Romanian.
ADAPTATIONS: My Michael and Black Box were adapted into films in Israel.
SIDELIGHTS: Through fiction and nonfiction alike, Israeli author Amos Oz describes a populace under emotional and physical siege and a society threatened by internal contradictions and contention. According to Judith Chernaik in the Times Literary Supplement, Oz writes books that are "indispensable reading for anyone who wishes to understand … life in Israel, the ideology that sustains it, and the passions that drive its people." Immensely popular in his own country, Oz has also established an international reputation. In a New Republic assessment of the author's talents, Ian Sanders noted: "Oz is an extraordinarily gifted Israeli novelist who delights his readers with both verbal brilliance and the depiction of eternal struggles—between flesh and spirit, fantasy and reality, Jew and Gentile…. His carefully reconstructed worlds are invariably transformed into symbolic landscapes, vast arenas where primeval forces clash." Times Literary Supplement contributor A.S. Byatt observed that in his works on Israel, Oz "can write with delicate realism about small lives, or tell fables about large issues, but his writing, even in translation, gains vitality simply from his subject matter." New York Review of Books correspondent D.J. Enright called Oz Israel's "most persuasive spokesman to the outside world, the literary part of it at least."
"In a sense Amos Oz has no alternative in his novels but to tell us what it means to be an Israeli," wrote John Bayley in the New York Review of Books. Oz is a sabra, or native-born Israeli who has seen military service in two armed conflicts—the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War—and has lived most of his adult life as a member of Kibbutz Hulda, one of Israel's collective communities. His fictional themes arise from these experiences and are often considered controversial for their presentations of individuals who rebel against the Israeli society's ideals.
The kibbutz provides Oz with a powerful symbol of the nation's aspirations, as well as serving as a microcosm of the larger Jewish family in Israel, suffocatingly inti-mate and inescapable, yet united in defense against the hostile forces besieging its borders. New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Alter declared that nearly all of Oz's fiction "is informed by the same symbolic world picture: a hemmed-in cluster of fragile human habitations (the kibbutz, the state of Israel itself) surrounded by dark, menacing mountains where jackals howl and hostile aliens lurk." According to Jewish Quarterly contributor Jacob Sonntag, the people of Oz's fiction "are part of the landscape, and the landscape is part of the reality from which there is no escape." If the landscape is inescapable, the bonds of family also offer little relief. New York Times Book Review correspondent Morris Dickstein wrote, "The core of feeling in Oz's work is always some sort of family, often a family being torn apart." Los Angeles Times correspondent Elaine Kendall similarly observed that Oz's fiction "confronts the generational conflicts troubling Israel today; emotional rifts intensified by pressure and privation. In that anguished country, the usual forms of family tension seem reversed; the young coldly realistic; the elders desperately struggling to maintain their belief in a receding ideal."
Alter contended that Oz's work is "symptomatic of the troubled connection Israeli writers increasingly feel with the realities of the Jewish state." Chernaik elaborated on this submerged "interior wilderness" that Oz seems compelled to explore: "The overwhelming impression left by his fiction is of the precariousness of individual and collective human effort, a common truth made especially poignant by a physical landscape thoroughly inhospitable to human settlement, and given tragic dimensions by the modern history of the Jews and its analogues in Biblical history." Oz himself explained in New Republic that he tries to tap his own turmoil in order to write. His characters, he said, "actually want two different things: peace and excitement, excitement and peace. These two things don't get along very easily, so when people have peace, they hate it and long for excitement, and when they have excitement, they want peace."
A central concern of Oz's fiction is the conflict between idealistic Zionism and the realities of life in a pluralistic society. As a corollary to this, many of his sabra characters have decidedly ambivalent feelings toward the Arab population, especially Palestinians. Commentary essayist Ruth R. Wisse wrote that in book after book, "Oz has taken the great myths with which modern Israel is associated—the noble experiment of the kibbutz, the reclamation of the soil, the wars against the British and the Arabs, the phoenix-like rise of the Jewish spirit out of the ashes of the Holocaust—and shown us their underside: bruised, dazed, and straying characters who move in an atmosphere of almost unalleviated depression." Nehama Aschkenasy offered a similar assessment in Midstream: "The collective voice is suspiciously optimistic, over-anxious to ascertain the normalcy and sanity of the community and the therapeutic effect of the collective body on its tormented member. But the voice of the individual is imbued with a bitter sense of entrapment, of existential boredom and nausea, coupled with a destructive surrender to the irrational and the antinomian." Dickstein noted that the author often "takes the viewpoint of the detached participant, the good citizen who does his duty, shares his family's ideals but remains a little apart, wryly skeptical, unable to lose himself in the communal spirit."
"Daytime Israel makes a tremendous effort to create the impression of the determined, tough, simple, uncomplicated society ready to fight back, ready to hit back twice as hard, courageous and so on," Oz told the Partisan Review. "Nocturnal Israel is a refugee camp with more nightmares per square mile I guess than any other place in the world. Almost everyone has seen the devil." The obsessions of "nocturnal Israel" fuel Oz's work, as Mark Shechner noted in Nation. "In [Oz's] fiction," Shechner wrote, "the great storms that periodically descend on the Jews stir up strange and possessed characters who ride the gusts as if in a dream: raging Zionists, religious fanatics poised to take the future by force, theoreticians of the millennium, strategists of the end game, connoisseurs of bitterness and curators of injustice, artists of prophecy and poets of doctrine."
This is not to suggest, however, that Oz's work is unrelentingly somber or polemical. According to Dickstein, the "glow of Oz's writing comes from the spare and unsentimental warmth of his own voice, his feeling for atmosphere and his gallery of colorful misfits and individualists caught in communal enterprises." Bayley likewise concluded: "One of the admirable things about Oz's novels is the humor in them, a humor which formulates itself in having taken, and accepted, the narrow measure of the Israeli scene. Unlike much ethnic writing his does not seek to masquerade as Weltliterature. It is Jewish literature acquiescing amusedly in its new militantly provincial status."
My Michael, a novel about the psychological disintegration of a young Israeli housewife, was Oz's first work translated and published in English. New Republic contributor Lesley Hazleton called the book "a brilliant and evocative portrait of a woman slowly giving way to schizoid withdrawal" and "a superb achievement,… the best novel to come out of Israel to date." In Modern Fiction Studies, Hana Wirth-Nesher expressed the view that Oz uses his alienated protagonist "to depict the isolation and fear that many Israelis feel partially as a country in a state of siege and partially as a small enclave of Western culture in a vast area of cultures and landscapes unlike what they have known." Alter praised My Michael for managing "to remain so private, so fundamentally apolitical in its concerns, even as it puts to use the most portentous political materials."
Paul Zweig claimed in the New York Times Book Review that when My Michael was published in Israel, shortly after the Six Day War, it proved "extremely disturbing to Israelis. At a time when their country had asserted control over its destiny as never before, Oz spoke of an interior life which Israel had not had time for, which it had paid no heed to, an interior life that contained a secret bond to the Asiatic world beyond its border." Disturbing though it was, My Michael was a best-seller in Israel; it established Oz's reputation among his fellow Israelis and gave him entree into the international world of letters.
Oz's first novel, Elsewhere, Perhaps, was his second work to be translated and published abroad. Most critics felt that the book is the best fictional representation of kibbutz life to emerge from Israel. As Sonntag wrote, "I know of no other book that depicts life in the Kibbutz more vividly, more realistically or with greater insight." In Nation William Novak noted that the story of sudden, violent events in the lives of three kibbutz families "engages our sympathies because of the compelling sincerity and moral concerns of the characters, and because of the extent to which this is really the story of an entire society." New York Times Book Review correspondent A.G. Mojtabai stressed the realistic sense of conflict between military and civilian values portrayed in Elsewhere, Perhaps. According to Mojtabai, two perceptions of "elsewhere" are active in the story: "elsewhere, perhaps, the laws of gravity obtain—not here; elsewhere, perhaps in some kingdom by the sea exists the model which our kibbutz imperfectly reflects, a society harmonious, healthful, joyful, loving—not here, not yet." Novak concluded that the novel's publication in the United States "should help to stimulate American appreciation of contemporary Israeli literature and society."
Oz's novel A Perfect Peace revolves around two young kibbutzniks—one rebellious after a lifetime in the environment, the other an enthusiastic newcomer—and an aging politician, founder of the collective. According to Alter, the novel is "a hybrid of social realism and metaphysical brooding, and it gains its peculiar power of assertion by setting social institutions and political issues in a larger metaphysical context. There is a vivid, persuasive sense of place here … but local place is quietly evoked against a cosmic backdrop." Times Literary Supplement reviewer S.S. Prawer observed that the work holds the reader's attention by providing a "variety of boldly drawn characters who reveal themselves to us in and through their speech…. Oz's storytelling, with its reliance on journals and inner monologues, is pleasantly old-fashioned." In a New York Times Book Review piece, Grace Schulman contended that it is "on a level other than the documentary that this novel succeeds so well. It is concerned with inner wholeness, and with a more profound peace than respect between generations and among countries…. The impact of this novel lies in the writer's creation of characters who are outwardly ordinary but inwardly bizarre, and at times fantastic."
Oz began his literary career as an author of short fiction. He has since published several volumes of stories and novellas, including Where the Jackals Howl and Other Stories, Unto Death, and The Hill of Evil Counsel. "As a seamstress who takes different pieces of cloth and sews them into a quilt, Amos Oz writes short pieces of fiction which together form a quilt in the reader's consciousness," noted J. Justin Gustainis in Best Sellers. "Just as the quilt may be of many colors but still one garment, Oz's stories speak of many things but still pay homage to one central idea: universal redemption through suffering."
Aschkenasy suggested that the stories in Where the Jackals Howl "are unified by an overall pattern that juxtaposes an individual permeated by a sense of existential estrangement and subterranean chaos with a self-deceiving community collectively intent upon putting up a facade of sanity and buoyancy in order to deny—or perhaps to exorcise—the demons from without and within." Chernaik noted of the same book that the reader coming to Oz for the first time "is likely to find his perception of Israel permanently altered and shaped by these tales."
The novellas in Unto Death "take as their theme the hatred that surrounds Jews and that destroys the hated and the haters alike," to quote Joseph McElroy in the New York Times Book Review. Midstream contributor Warren Bargad found this theme one manner of expressing "the breakdown of the myth of normalcy which has been at the center of Zionist longing for decades: the envi-sioned State of Israel, with its promise of autoemancipation, which would make of the Jewish people a nation among nations. For Oz it is still an impossible dream."
Oz revisits similar themes in Fima, which portrays the paradoxical futility of the novel's eponymous character. Fima is a despairing divorcee who lives in solitary squalor and has long ago abandoned work as a poet for employment as a receptionist at an abortion clinic. Privately preoccupied with intractable ethical dilemmas and fantasies of running the government, he endures a pathetic, ordinary existence punctuated by public fulminations and interaction with his few friends, ex-wife, and ten-year-old albino son. Fima "is a breathing contradiction, a muddle-headed sage, a gentle buffoon who thinks about life very seriously indeed," wrote Michael Hayward in Washington Post Book World. Shechner similarly observed in Chicago Tribune Books that "For all his neurosis and ineffectuality, his self-absorption and lassitude, his petulance and his opinions, he is a true-blue peace advocate, like Oz himself." Hayward added, "one always senses that Oz is on the side of his hero's sanity…. Fima may not look like one, but he is a survivor."
Fima was well received by critics. According to Patricia Storace in the New York Review of Books, the novel's "insistent presentation of trivial daily events, of political discussions that faithfully reproduce recognizable arguments, its vignettes of Jerusalem life, make it seem, read from one angle, a work of talented, experienced and intelligent realism." Storace added that Oz "has made a thoroughly unconventional novel co-exist simultaneously with a work of more conventional realism. This world of whiskey-drinking and divorce, of newspaper-reading and passionate argument, is also the world of good and evil, of life and death."
The novel Don't Call It Night centers on the relationship of Theo and Noa, a childless couple who become involved in the establishment of a drug rehabilitation center in their small frontier town. The center is commissioned to honor the memory of one of Noa's former pupils, whose mysterious suicide lends an air of intrigue. Though the enterprise is originally presented to Noa, an idealistic teacher, her reluctance to involve Theo eventually succumbs to necessity. Theo is an experienced city planner and a realist whose expertise proves essential to bringing the task to completion. Despite their differences, as Tony Gould wrote in Spectator, "They are more alike than either cares to be, and what they have in common is their need. That is the one constant in a world where everything else is transient—relationships, commitments, even the new town itself, perched on the edge of a desert which is as metaphorical as it is real." Concentrating on atmosphere more than plot, Oz portrays the subtle variations of feeling and temperament that render a seemingly ordinary relationship complex.
Praising the novel in an Observer review, Kate Kella-way commented that "Don't Call It Night has a meditative confidence that a younger writer could not expect to achieve. It is daringly ambitious; it shows that non-events matter." Though critical of the novel's contrived action and digressions, Times Literary Supplement contributor Michael Hofmann believed that Don't Call It Night surpasses Fima and represents a major contribution to the literary canon of postwar Israel. "At its best," wrote Hofmann, "[the novel] has a kind of Dutch un-eventfulness. Elements of nocturne, still life, portrait and landscape are blended to create … indelible images in the reader's mind: of the small town at the edge of the desert, of two people at night in their apartment, one asleep, the other musing and pottering by the light of a fridge." Commenting on Don't Call It Night in a New Statesman interview with Christopher Price, Oz remarked, "Sociology does not interest me. I don't want to know how many people are like Theo and Noa…. I want to know what Theo and Noa are really like. This is why I am a storyteller and not a scientist."
In addition to his work as a storyteller, Oz assumes a position of objective detachment as an accomplished political observer and journalist. In the Land of Israel, a series of interviews Oz conducted with a wide variety of Israelis, is his best-known work of nonfiction. According to Shechner, the book "provoked an outcry in Israel, where many saw the portraits of Jews as exaggerated and tailored to suit Oz's politics." The study does indeed present a vision of a pluralistic, creatively contentious society, "threatened as much by the xenophobia and self-righteous tribalism within as by enemies without," according to Gene Lyons in Newsweek. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt offered a similar opinion in the New York Times: "All together, the voices of In the Land of Israel serve to elucidate the country's complex ideological cross-currents. And conducted as they are by Mr. Oz, they sing an eloquent defense of what he considers a centrist position, though some of his critics might call it somewhat left-of-center." Lyons felt that the work is most valuable for what it shows the reader about Oz and his belief regarding his country's future. Lyons concluded, "Eloquent, humane, even religious in the deepest sense, [Oz] emerges here—and I can think of no higher praise—as a kind of Zionist Or-well: a complex man obsessed with simple decency and determined above all to tell the truth, regardless of whom it offends."
Under This Blazing Light offers additional commentary on later-twentieth-century Israeli life in essays adapted from interviews and lectures conducted by Oz between 1962 and 1979. His main themes revolve around the necessity of compromise between Israel and the Palestinians and an examination of Hebrew language and literature. Regarding Oz's political analysis, Elizabeth Shostak wrote in Wilson Library Bulletin, "the author's principled determination to imagine the other side's point of view without giving up his own loyalty remains both convincing and attractive." On the function of literature in human affairs, Tova Reich wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "Oz answers with a refreshingly old-fashioned formulation: it is 'a circle of sorrow—protest—consolation.'" Shostak concluded, "Oz is a direct and lucid essayist."
Israel, Palestine, and Peace is a similar collection of Oz's writings devoted to Middle East politics. "The unusual aspect of Oz's viewpoint," noted Shelley A. Glantz in Kliatt, is that he "blames and credits Israeli and Palestinian leaders and citizens equally." Oz reaffirms his belief that peace cannot be achieved without compromise, which inevitably calls for moderation and reciprocal sacrifice. While asserting a two-state solution in which both could coexist without lingering on ceaseless accusation, Oz suggests that the first gesture of conciliation should be to erect "a monument to our mutual stupidity." According to Washington Post Book World reviewer Charles Solomon, Oz's essays represent "a compelling vision of tolerance and sanity." A Kirkus Reviews contributor similarly praised the volume as "a poignant and powerful collection." "Oz is one of those rare writers who is equally stimulating in fiction and essay," concluded a Rapport reviewer. Oz's position did not waver in the face of the escalation of terrorist violence in Israel and elsewhere in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Washington, DC, and New York City on September 11th, 2001. "If we don't stop somewhere, if we don't accept an unhappy compromise, unhappy for both sides, if we don't learn how to unhappily coexist and contain our burned sense of injustice—if we don't learn how to do that, we end up in a doomed state," he explained to NewsHour interviewer Elizabeth Farnsworth in a televised discussion of the extension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the twenty-first century.
In an assessment of Oz's nonfiction, Shechner described what he called the "two Amos Ozes." One, Shechner wrote, is "a fiction writer with an international audience, the other an Israeli journalist of more or less hometown credentials…. Oz's journalism would seem to have little in common with the crepuscular world of his fiction. A blend of portraits and polemics, it is straightforward advocacy journalism, bristling with editorials and belonging to the world of opinions, ideologies and campaigns." Despite his fiction's sometimes bleak portrayal of Israel, Oz believes in his homeland and expresses strong opinions on how he feels it should be run. Alter noted: "In contrast to the inclination some writers may feel to withdraw into the fastness of language, the Oz articles reflect a strenuous effort to go out into Israeli society and sound its depth." Furthermore, according to Roger Rosenblatt in the New York Times Book Review, as a journalist Oz establishes "that he is no ordinary self-effacing reporter on a quest, but a public figure who for years has participated in major national controversies and who regularly gives his views of things to the international press, 'ratting' on his homeland." Schulman suggested in the Washington Post Book World that Oz's journalism "may be the way to an esthetic stance in which he can reconcile the conflicting demands of artistic concern and political turbulence."
Critics have found much to praise in Oz's portraits of the struggling nation of Israel. "Oz's words, his sensuous prose and indelible imagery, the people he flings living onto his pages, evoke a cauldron of sentiments at the boil; yet his human vision is capacious enough to contain the destruction and hope for peace," wrote Richard R. Lingeman in the New York Times. "He has caught a welter of fears, curses and dreams at a watershed moment in history, when an uneasy, restless waiting gave way to an upsurge of violence, of fearsome consequences. The power of his art fuses historical fact and symbol; he makes the ancient stones of Jerusalem speak, and the desert beyond a place of jackals and miracles." In the Saturday Review, Alfred Kazin stated that Oz's effect on him is always to make him realize "how little we know about what goes on inside the Israeli head…. To the unusually sensitive and humorous mind of Amos Oz, the real theme of Jewish history—especially in Israel—is unreality. When, and how can a Jew attain reality in the Promised Land, actually touch the water, touch the wind?" Chernaik felt that Oz is "without doubt a voice for sanity, for the powers of imagination and love, and for understanding. He is also a writer of marvelous comic and lyric gifts, which somehow communicate themselves as naturally in English as in Hebrew."
The Same Sea is a lyric novel, written partially in verse, with frequent allusions to the great poetry and prose of the Hebrew tradition. "This is vintage Mr. Oz, arguably his best work ever," Carol Herman observed in the Washington Times, although she noted that "those seeking the benefit of his political wisdom will find no explicit comfort here." Reading The Same Sea "is like being the guest at a dinner party of a wildly dysfunctional family that is not shy about airing its secrets," as New York Times reviewer William M. Hoffman described it. Albert, a recent widower; his son Rico, who is "finding himself" and experimenting with his sexuality in Asia; Dita, Rico's girlfriend, who moves in with Albert after she is cheated out of her money; and Bettine, a down-to-earth woman of Albert's own age who is the only character who consistently speaks in prose, all get to explain themselves. Even Nadia, Albert's dead wife, speaks. "Some rhyme, some don't," Herman said of the characters, but "all breathe." The Same Sea "will doubtless be regarded as a defining work from a writer of major significance," Phillip Santo declared in Library Journal.
A Tale of Love and Darkness is a "moving, emotionally charged memoir of the renowned author's youth in a newly created Israel," wrote a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Focusing on Oz's childhood and adolescence, A Tale of Love and Darkness "deals frontally with an upbringing previously inferable only from his stories and novels," according to Commentary reviewer Hillel Halkin. The work also follows Oz's development as a writer during a time of great political upheaval. "In this heady, dangerous atmosphere … Oz comes of age, blossoming as a man of letters," wrote the Kirkus Reviews critic.
Oz is an unusual Israeli writer in that he has chosen to stay at the kibbutz throughout his career, even though the income from his royalties is substantial. Even when he was younger, he said in Partisan Review, the kibbutz "evoked and fed my curiosity about the strange phenomenon of flawed, tormented human beings dreaming about perfection, aching for the Messiah, aspiring to change human nature. This perpetual paradox of magnanimous dream and unhappy reality is indeed one of the main threads in my writing." Furthermore, he told the Washington Post, his fellow kibbutzniks react to his works in fascinating ways: "It's a great advantage, you know, to have a passionate, immediate milieu and not a literary milieu—a milieu of real people who tell me straight in my face what they think of my writing."
Hebrew is the language in which Oz chooses to write; he calls it a "volcano in action," still evolving rapidly into new forms. Oz likes to call himself the "tribal storyteller," as he explained in the New York Times: "I bring up the evil spirits and record the traumas, fantasies, the lunacies of Israeli Jews, natives and those from Central Europe. I deal with their ambitions and the powderbox of self-denial and self-hatred." In a Washington Post interview, he maintained that Israel would always be the source from which his inspiration would spring. "I'm fascinated," he said of his homeland. "Yes, indeed, I'm disgusted, appalled, sick and tired sometimes. Even when I'm sick and tired, I'm there…. It's my thing, if you will, in the same sense that William Faulkner belonged in the Deep South. It's my thing and my place and my addiction."
Married and the father of three children, Oz speaks and travels frequently, bringing his personal thoughts to television and lecture audiences in Israel and abroad. Describing his creative impulses, Oz told the New York Times: "Whenever I find myself in total agreement with myself, then I write an article—usually in rage—telling the government what to do. But when I detect hesitation, more than one inner voice, I discover in me the embryo of characters, the seeds of a novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5, 1976, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 11, 1979, Volume 27, 1981, Volume 33, 1985, Volume 54, 1989.
Contemporary World Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Hiro, Dilip, Dictionary of the Middle East, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Legends in Their Own Time, Prentice Hall (New York, NY), 1994.
Magill, Frank N., editor, Cyclopedia of World Authors II, Salem Press (Pasadena, CA), 1997.
Murphy, Bruce, editor, Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, 4th edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Oz, Amos, Israel, Palestine, and Peace: Essays, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Reference Guide to Short Fiction, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Short Story Criticism, Volume 66, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2004.
Wirth-Nesher, Hana, City Codes: Reading the Modern Urban Novel, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1996.
Atlantic, December, 1983; May, 1988.
Best Sellers, October, 1978.
Book, May-June, 2002, Stephen Whited, review of The Same Sea, p. 80.
Booklist, February 15, 1999, review of Kol Ha-Tokvot, p. 1049; October 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of The Same Sea, p. 383.
Brick, summer, 2003, Ramona Koval, "An Interview with Amos Oz," pp. 68-80.
Chicago Tribune, December 7, 1989.
Commentary, July, 1974; April, 1984; April, 2004, Hillel Halkin, "Politics and the Israeli Novel," pp. 29-36.
Jewish Quarterly, spring-summer, 1974.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1995, p. 304; July 1, 1995, p. 926; January 1, 1999, review of The Story Begins, p. 50; July 15, 2004, review of A Tale of Love and Darkness, p. 677.
Kliatt, January, 1996, p. 31; September, 1998, review of Panther in the Basement, p. 6; March, 1999, review of Panther in the Basement, p. 14.
Library Journal, January, 1999, Gene Shaw, review of The Story Begins, p. 97; August, 2001, Philip Santo, review of The Same Sea, p. 164; July, 2003, "Amos Oz Unto Death: Two Novellas—Crusade and Late Love"; June 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of A Tale of Love and Darkness, p. 104.
Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1981; June 24, 1985; December 25, 1989.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 11, 1983; May 29, 1988, p. 3; May 12, 1991, p. 2; September 3, 1995, p. 9.
Midstream, November, 1976; January, 1985; January, 2002, Leslie Cohen and Elvera Herbstman, review of The Same Sea, pp. 44-45.
Modern Fiction Studies, spring, 1978.
Nation, September 7, 1974; June 8, 1985; June 4, 1988, p. 796; November 11, 1996, John Leonard, "What Have We Come Here to Be?," pp. 25-30; January 21, 2002, Morris Dickstein, review of The Same Sea, p. 27.
National Review, April 20, 1984.
New Leader, January 6, 1975.
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New Statesman, October 20, 1995, p. 20.
Newsweek, November 21, 1983; July 29, 1985.
New Yorker, November 18, 1974; August 7, 1978; August 19, 1985; January 31, 1994, p. 89.
New York Review of Books, February 7, 1974; January 23, 1975; July 20, 1978; September 26, 1985; August 18, 1988, p. 30; May 26, 1994, p. 17; June 25, 1995, p. 18; March 5, 1998, review of Panther in the Basement, p. 17.
New York Times, May 19, 1978; July 18, 1978; May 22, 1981; October 31, 1983; November 11, 1989; March, 1998, J.M. Coetzee, review of Panther in the Basement, pp. 17-18.
New York Times Book Review, May 21, 1972; November 18, 1973; November 24, 1974; October 26, 1975; May 28, 1978; April 26, 1981; March 27, 1983; November 6, 1983; November 25, 1984, p. 44; June 2, 1985; April 24, 1988, p. 7; March 19, 1989, p. 32; February 4, 1990; January 24, 1991, p. 32; June 9, 1991, p. 32; July 26, 1992, p. 24; October 24, 1993, p. 12; June 25, 1995, p. 18; January 11, 1998, review of Don't Call It Night, p. 20; December 27, 1998, review of Panther in the Basement, p. 20; July 4, 1999, Laurie Adlerstein, review of The Story Begins, p. 14; October 28, 2001, William M. Hoffman, "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Son's Girlfriend," p. 12.
Observer (London, England), July 7, 1985, p. 21; July 13, 1986, p. 27; June 26, 1988, p. 42; July 17, 1988, p. 42; February 4, 1990, p. 61; February 3, 1991, p. 54; September 12, 1993, p. 53; October 29, 1995, p. 16; May 29, 1999, review of The Story Begins, p. 11; February 18, 2001, review of The Same Sea, p. 15.
Partisan Review, number 3, 1982; number 3, 1986.
Publishers Weekly, May 21, 1973; September 6, 1993, p. 84; February 27, 1995, p. 92; June 17, 1996, p. 45; February 1, 1999, review of The Story Begins, p. 66; September 3, 2001, review of The Same Sea, p. 54.
Rapport, Volume 19, number 1, 1995, p. 39.
Saturday Review, June 24, 1972; November 2, 1974; May 13, 1978.
Spectator, January 9, 1982; December 17, 1983; August 10, 1985; April 22, 1995, p. 36; October 7, 1995, p. 54; February 17, 2001, review of The Same Sea, p. 39.
Studies in Short Fiction, winter, 1982.
Time, January 27, 1986.
Times (London, England), August 1, 1985.
Times Literary Supplement, July 21, 1972; February 22, 1974; March 21, 1975; October 6, 1978; September 25, 1981; July 27, 1984; August 9, 1985; June 24, 1988, p. 697; December 2, 1988, p. 1342; March 2, 1990; October 13, 1995, p. 24; December 1, 1995, p. 12; December 4, 1998, review of Panther in the Basement, p. 12; September 1, 2000, Morris Dick-stein, "The Talking Dog of Jerusalem," pp. 12-13; February 9, 2001, review of The Same Sea, p. 21.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 14, 1993, p. 3.
Village Voice, February 14, 1984.
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Washington Post Book World, May 28, 1972; May 31, 1981; June 14, 1981; November 13, 1983; July 14, 1985; November 28, 1993, p. 6.
Washington Times, December 9, 2001, Carol Herman, "How Life Goes On in Israel," p. 6.
Whole Earth Review, spring, 1996, p. 77.
Wilson Library Bulletin, June, 1995, p. 104.
World Literature Today, spring, 1982; spring, 1983; summer, 1984; autumn, 1986; autumn, 1995, p. 862; spring, 1998, review of Panther in the Basement, p. 449; summer, 1999, review of The Story Begins, p. 589; summer-autumn, 2001, Eric Sterling, review of The Same Sea, pp. 110-111.
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Online NewsHour, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/ (January 23, 2002), Elizabeth Farnsworth, "Coping with Conflict" (televised interview transcript).