I watched Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness last year, which is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Israeli author Amos Oz. But this collection of eight short stories was my first read by the author and now I’m intrigued to find more of his works.
Amos Oz’s compelling new fiction offers revelatory glimpses into the secrets and frustrations of the human heart, played out by a community of misfits united by political disagreement, intense dissatisfaction and lifetimes of words left unspoken.
Ariella, unhappy in love, confides in the woman whose husband she stole; Nahum, a devoted father, can’t find the words to challenge his daughter’s promiscuous lover; the old idealists deplore the apathy of the young, while the young are so used to kibbutz life that they can’t work out if they’re impassioned or indifferent. Arguments about war, government, travel and children are feverishly taken up and quickly abandoned – and amid this group of people unwilling and unable to say what they mean, Martin attempts to teach Esperanto.
While Between Friends was certainly a quick read, only two tales out of the eight stood out in my eyes. The first one being the introducing story, “The King of Norway,” which chronicles the life of Zvi Provizor, a middle-age bachelor who likes to carry the sorrows of the world on his shoulders. (“Closing your eyes to the cruelty of life is, in my opinion, both stupid and sinful. There’s very little we can do about it. So we have to at least acknowledge it.”)
This story resonated deeply with its discussions of Provizor’s emotional issues, in particular the fact that he doesn’t like being touched.
“Never in his adult life had he touched another person intentionally, and he went rigid whenever he was touched. He loved the feel of loose earth and the softness of young stems, but the touch of others, men or women, caused his entire body to stiffen and contract as if he’d been burned. He always tried to avoid handshakes, pats on the back, or the accidental rubbing of elbows at the table in the dining hall.”
And the following tale I liked was titled “Father,” which follows sixteen-year-old Moshe Yashar with his quiet and gentle manner. It delivered everything I didn’t know I wanted from this collection. And the one thing that stood out the most was this next paragraph on animal cruelty and veganism.
“Someday, Moshe thought, a future generation will call us murderers, unable to comprehend how we could eat the flesh of creatures like ourselves, rob them of the feel of the earth and the smell of the grass, hatch them in automatic incubators, raise them in crowded cages, force-feed them, steal all their eggs before they hatch, and finally, slit their throats, pluck their feathers, tear them limb from limb, gorge ourselves on them and drool and lick the fat from our lips.”
Such a powerful passage to secure my ongoing interest. To paraphrase Moshe, I kept finding myself deeply touched by the enigmas contained in these pages. Discussing “big, simple truths: loneliness and longing, desire and death.”
However, one subtle thing I noticed the more I read on was how similarly the inner qualities of the narrators were described. The word ‘quiet’ was used an absurd amount of times to describe every single one of them. We had “quietly persistent,” “quiet” and “composed,” “quiet persistence,” etc. So either the translator or the author went a little overboard… And this then lead to each short story blending into the next one, until it became difficult to distinguish the voices.
On a brighter note, I did enjoy the fact that all the tales were connected in one way or another, so that we got closure on certain storylines that weren’t quite finished before. Also, I cherished the fact that these quietly moving stories were set on around the kibbutz movement.
All in all: This was a great introduction to Amos Oz’s writing style and I’m eager to continue on.