Author: Amos Oz
Details: (c) 2003 Amos Oz & Keter Publishing House Ltd; Pub Vintage 2005; translated Nicholas de Lange 2004; ISBN 0-099-45003-8
Verdict: A tale of love and darkness (סיפור על אהבה וחושך) has some beautiful descriptions and interesting historical insights, but it didn't hold my interest as a story
Reasons for reading it: The Jewish book discussion group here picked it out, and I thought it sounded interesting anyway even though I actually missed the discussion.
How it came into my hands: My parents bought it to read for the discussion.
Oz is very good at capturing a scene or object in words, and in A tale of love and darkness he shows off this trick over and over again over the course of 500 pages. The descriptions are lovely, the imagery is really memorable, but the story doesn't go anywhere as a story. aToL&D stands in the same relation to a novel as a magic lantern show to a film. The problem is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that the narrative breaks strict chronological order, which does sometimes help to increase the emotional impact but mostly makes the book seem even more rambling and static. I think a secondary problem is that I haven't actually read any of Oz' novels, so his autobiography is not necessarily the best place to start; there are quite a lot of points where he stops to explain how some experience influenced his writing, and having not read the novels in question I'm not very interested in that.
The vivid pictures Oz creates go a long way to make the book worth reading, especially as he evokes the experience of a petit bourgeois family living in Jerusalem in the years leading up to and immediately following the War of Independence. For me the strongest parts of the book were those that portrayed the strongly European identities of Oz' parents and grandparents of their social circle, and how that influenced their attitudes both to the Holocaust and to Israel. As Holocaust writing, aToL&D is successful; it has a strong emotional impact without being either mawkish or so horrific that the reader just switches off.
So yes, aToL&D has contributed something to my understanding of history, and in a very direct, personal way. But I was bored through long sections of it and it took me nearly a month to read. The suicide of Oz' mother when the writer was 12 is (unsurprisingly) a central theme, and I have some admiration for the way that the book confronts this cataclysm in a very honest and also emotionally intense way. It's hard to put my finger on why exactly it didn't work as a whole; basically, it's too long, with too many little cameos which, while cute in themselves, do nothing to further the development of the story or give any insight into the characters.