Amos Oz: The Lega­cy of a Writer in Israel and Beyond

  • Review
By – July 7, 2023

Read­ing this col­lec­tion of essays about Amos Oz is like attend­ing a grad­u­ate col­lo­qui­um, rich with infor­ma­tion and ideas. Some of the nine­teen chap­ters focus on spe­cif­ic books or top­ics; oth­ers take a wider view. Yet each sheds new light on Oz’s work from its own perspective.

Pro­fes­sor Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi empathizes with Oz’s char­ac­ters, par­tic­u­lar­ly with Han­nah, the suf­fer­ing wife in My Michael. Pro­fes­sor Nis­sim Calderon, on the oth­er hand, feels that Oz was not try­ing to under­stand Han­nah” and that the char­ac­ters verge on car­i­ca­ture.” It’s per­haps a strange response to a work that the schol­ar and lit­er­ary crit­ic Nitza Ben-Dov com­pares to Madame Bovary.

Liam Hoare explores the per­sis­tent influ­ence of Euro­pean cul­ture on Amos Oz’s writ­ing. Europe and the Holo­caust are always there in the ear­ly works,” he observes, adding that a num­ber of Oz’s char­ac­ters have moved to a new home­land only to dis­cov­er that one can­not leave behind the ghosts of the old one.”

Pro­fes­sor Adam Rovner’s insight­ful analy­sis of two sto­ries, Mr. Lavi and Pan­ther in the Base­ment, calls atten­tion to a device that recurs in Oz’s fic­tion: an adult nar­ra­tor whose focal point in the sto­ry is his child­hood self. Oz there­by cre­ates an enchant­ed world of ado­les­cent pow­er fantasies.”

Pro­fes­sor Avra­ham Bal­a­ban, who knew Oz at Kib­butz Hul­da, sen­si­tive­ly observes that Oz was work­ing hard to accom­plish some­thing that came nat­u­ral­ly to the oth­er kib­butz kids.” Yet Oz, who joined the kib­butz at age fif­teen, once told Bal­a­ban, For you, Hul­da was hell. For me, it was redemption.”

Stan­ford University’s Vered Kar­ti Shem­tov, a respect­ed author­i­ty on Oz, cites sev­er­al exam­ples of how he viewed the Arab-Israeli con­flict as not a Hol­ly­wood West­ern, pit­ting good against bad, but a tragedy of jus­tice against jus­tice … a Chekhov tragedy, where every­body is embit­tered, grumpy, dis­il­lu­sioned, but alive.” She con­cludes that Oz will be most like­ly remem­bered, and right­ly so, as one of Israel’s loud­est and most elo­quent voic­es for peace.”

By con­trast, Jew­ish Cur­rents writer Joshua Leifer sees Oz’s work as a pro­duc­tion of hege­mon­ic Israe­li­ness.” Leifer — who refers to Israel as a set­tler-colo­nial poli­ty” — calls Oz an unam­bigu­ous­ly polit­i­cal author” who enjoyed prox­im­i­ty to pow­er.” He out­right rejects Oz’s dec­la­ra­tion that nov­els for me have nev­er been a polit­i­cal vehi­cle,” and argues that the nov­el Black Box is a polit­i­cal alle­go­ry, how­ev­er much Oz would like to avoid it.” But Pro­fes­sor Ranen Omer-Sher­man, the edi­tor of this book, main­tains that Oz the polemi­cist nev­er over­rules the imag­i­na­tive artist.”

Poet and nov­el­ist Moriel Roth­man-Zech­er, who believes the two-state solu­tion is dead, won­ders whether Oz would con­tin­ue to believe in it were he still alive. Sam Suss­man, an award-win­ning writer, sug­gests the answer is no. He sees Oz’s last nov­el, Judas, as point­ing to an alter­na­tive par­a­digm that might be, or might once have been, prefer­able to a two-state solution.

A spe­cial high­light of this book is its final entry: a heart­felt, beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten rem­i­nis­cence of Oz by his elder daugh­ter and occa­sion­al col­lab­o­ra­tor, the schol­ar Fania Oz-Sulzberg­er. Her warm rec­ol­lec­tions of kib­butz life, and of her emo­tion­al­ly sen­si­tive father, are price­less. She recalls his intel­lec­tu­al influ­ences, his sense of humor, his sheer love for fel­low human beings, and the women in his life who brought him redemp­tion.”

Any seri­ous admir­er of Amos Oz’s extra­or­di­nary body of work will find much to pon­der and enjoy in this thought-pro­vok­ing anthology.

Discussion Questions