Translation – Nicholas de Lange
This is a book of fragments, there are seven tales and a coda in this book, and what you get are glimpses into the lives of the inhabitants of the fictional village of Tel Ilan, just a short bus hop from Tel Aviv. This is starting to become an issue as it’s distance and it’s beauty makes it an ideal setting for the smart set to move in with their money and chic boutiques, pricing out the locals. This is merely one of the backdrops to what is a strange and disturbing book, all the more so for being beautifully written.
It is as though we pop into a moment of these characters day and then go on our way with no conclusion beyond a slight ache, as though we had just received acupuncture, with a series of question marks, there is a disquiet, a sense of unease that permeates ones conscious and remains there nagging, a slight nuisance pricking at the edges of your perception.
In the first tale Arieh Zelnik, lives with his 90 year old mother and one day a stranger turns up, a lawyer with some news for him, from this simple premise the story slowly gets stranger and stranger until?
In another, Dr Gili Steiner goes to meet her nephew of the bus. The bus arrives without him, the Dr becomes distressed and searches for him whilst reminiscing about their past together, her angst increases as her attempt fails.
In Strangers, Kobi Ezra, a 17 year old loner, is infatuated with the librarian - a 30 year old divorcee - who is seeing a truck driver, this is a tale that is both tortuous and touching as he strives to make his feelings known.
This is a slight glimpse into this small patch of Eden, where the natives seem to live lives of quiet despair, and although each tale focuses on one person, the inhabitants wander through the book as though they were wandering through the village, constantly popping up in each others tales, adding a cohesiveness to the whole collection - except for the end tale (the coda) unless the point is to ram home the sense of isolation of being alone. In this tale, a pointless government inspector is occupied in a pointless forgotten job, he writes unread reports about what appears to be a primitive community, lost in a world of decay.
This is the moment where I say something particularly Stupid (more so than normal) Amos Oz is a writer, by this I mean a proper writer. I’ve read reports that say he should have won the Noble Prize for Literature or that he’s a genius, it is too early for me to give a considered comment on those remarks, this being my first Oz book. What I can say is that this is a strange book and yet it is a really beautifully written book that for all its surreal dark qualities really endeared itself to me, that slowly and quietly charmed it's way into my heart.
Amos Oz was born in 1939 in Jerusalem. At the age of 15 he went to live on a kibbutz. He studied philosophy and literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and was a visiting fellow at Oxford University, author-in- residence at the Hebrew University and writer-in-residence at Colorado College. He has been named Officer of Arts and Letters of France. An author of prose for both children and adults, as well as an essayist, he has been widely translated and is internationally acclaimed. He has been honoured with the French Prix Femina and the 1992 Frankfurt Peace Prize. He lives in the southern town Arad and teaches literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
Nicholas Robert Michael de Lange (often known simply as N. de Lange) (7 August 1944, Nottingham) is Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Cambridge and is an ordained Reform rabbi. He was taught and ordained by the British Reform rabbi Ignaz Maybaum, a disciple of Franz Rosenzweig.
De Lange is a historian and author, who has written and edited several books about Judaism, as well as various papers and articles, he has translated several works of fiction by Amos Oz, S. Yizhar and A.B. Yehoshua into English. In November 2007, he received the Risa Domb/Porjes Prize for Translation from the Hebrew for his translation of "A Tale of Love and Darkness" by Amos Oz.
He currently gives lectures on Modern Judaism and the Reading of Jewish texts at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. He is a fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge.