Authors: Amos Oz

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Israeli novelist and short-story writer

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Ma’kom a’her, 1966 (Elsewhere, Perhaps, 1973)

Mikha’el sheli, 1968 (My Michael, 1972)

Laga ‘at ba-mayim, laga ‘at baruah, 1973 (Touch the Water, Touch the Wind, 1974)

Menuhah nekhonah, 1982 (A Perfect Peace, 1985)

Kufsah shehorah, 1987 (Black Box, 1988)

La-da’at ishah, 1989 (To Know a Woman, 1991)

Matsav ha-shelishi, 1991 (Fima, 1993)

Al tagidi lailah, 1994 (Don’t Call It Night, 1995)

Panter ba-martef, 1994 (Panther in the Basement, 1997)

Oto ha-yam, 1999 (The Same Sea, 2001)

Short Fiction:

Artsot hatan, 1965, revised 1976 (Where the Jackals Howl, and Other Stories, 1981)

Ahavah me’uheret, 1971 (Unto Death, 1975)

Har ha’etsah ha-ra’ah, 1976 (The Hill of Evil Counsel: Three Stories, 1978)

Nonfiction:

Be-or ha-Techelet ha-azah: Ma’amarim ve-reshimot, 1979 (Under This Blazing Light: Essays, 1995)

Po va-sham be-Erets-Yisra’el bi-setav, 1982 (In the Land of Israel, 1983)

Mi-mordot ha-Levanon: Ma’amarim u-reshimot, 1987 (The Slopes of Lebanon, 1989)

Shetikat ha-shamayim, 1993 (The Silence of Heaven: Agnon’s Fear of God, 2000)

Israel, Palestine, and Peace: Essays, 1994

Mathilim sipur, 1996 (The Story Begins: Essays on Literature, 2000)

Kol ha-tikvot: Mahashavot ‘al zehut Yisre’elit, 1998

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Sumkhi, 1978 (Soumchi, 1980)

Biography

Amos Oz, born Amos Klausner, spent the early years of his childhood in his family home in the Jerusalem suburb of Kerem Avraham. The politics of the Klausner family were strongly tied to the idea of a Jewish state in British-mandated Palestine; within the broad spectrum of Zionism, they identified with the right-wing branch, perhaps even with the Revisionist cause led by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Following his family’s preferences, Oz attended the Orthodox Jewish school Telkemoni in Jerusalem. The dominating influence of Oz’s father, a member of the urban intellectual middle class and a published scholar of comparative literature, almost certainly played a role in the apparent rebelliousness of the adolescent son. Oz described his father’s character in the following terms: “Like every good Zionist he wanted his offspring to be at least two things: Nimrod the Hunter and the saintly Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav.” In other words, his sons should have the force to fight but should also bring honor to his family.{$I[AN]9810000967}{$I[A]Oz, Amos}{$S[A]Klausner, Amos;Oz, Amos}{$I[geo]ISRAEL;Oz, Amos}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Oz, Amos}{$I[tim]1939;Oz, Amos}

By the time Oz was fourteen (five years after Israel’s independence), he decided to leave his family home, change his surname from Klausner to Oz, and join Kibbutz Hulda, which had been founded as part of the experimental Zionist community in 1940. There he gained a new identity living as part of the local agricultural productive force and sharing communal responsibilities with fellow kibbutz members. Many of the themes for his later writings would be based on this grassroots exposure to idealistic Zionism. Another legacy of this decision to change his lifestyle may be visible in his association with the leftist or labor-oriented political philosophy of the party founded by another famous kibbutznik, David Ben-Gurion.

Oz remained a resident of Kibbutz Hulda through the years, leaving only for three years of obligatory service in the Israeli army, two years of study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and several writer’s sabbaticals abroad, including a year as a visiting Fellow of St. Cross College, Oxford, and, from 1986 to 1987, in residence at Colorado College in the United States. Within his own community, his skills as a writer served the needs and interests of the kibbutz youth. When he was not assisting with agricultural labors at harvest time, he taught in the English and literature departments of Kibbutz Hulda’s high school.

Oz’s literary work covers a wide field of interests. Stylistically it takes advantage of the relative flexibility of modern Hebrew, which was itself reborn along with the Zionist movement of the late nineteenth century, to produce effects that are more difficult to convey in modern European languages. Oz himself has likened modern Hebrew to “a volcano in action,” very much like the English language of the Elizabethan period. In terms of subject matter Oz’s novels provide portraits primarily of Israeli culture and society in some, but certainly not all, cases woven into a cosmopolitan context.

Oz’s Where the Jackals Howl, and Other Stories was one of his earliest collections of short stories about kibbutz life. Here Oz concentrates on individual character studies. Although there is some attention to the potentially hostile surrounding environment, one is struck, particularly in the short story “Nomad and Viper,” by the humanity of Oz’s (somewhat idealized) view of the Arab inhabitants of the territory that became Israel.

Oz’s highly developed stylistic skills are very visible in Elsewhere, Perhaps, a novel about life on the kibbutz of Metsudet Ram. Here impressions, either of characters or of natural settings, are skillfully encompassed, sometimes into two-page vignettes which stand by themselves. Oz’s Unto Death consists of two novella-length pieces. One of these is historical fiction dealing with Palestine during the eleventh century Crusades, whereas the second, “Late Love,” is a very contemporary autobiographical subject, recounted in the first person.

By the mid-1970’s, particularly in My Michael, the form of Oz’s presentation began to change somewhat. In this case the simple, direct style of the short story is retained in a longer novel that recounts the life of an Israeli couple, Hannah (the wife and narrator) and Michael. This first longer novel did not distract the author from developing his preferred form, the story. The Hill of Evil Counsel is an example of Oz’s expansion of the short story into a medium-length novella. This collection of three stories combines an account of middle-class Jews in their social relations with representatives of the British mandatory regime (1920-1948) with much more impressionistic stories (one told through the eyes of a child) of personalities, families, and neighborhoods interacting (in this case in a setting of underground political resistance) with the same British “enemy.”

By the 1980’s Oz seemed ready to opt for the full-length novel but still did not abandon his preference for experimentation. Whereas A Perfect Peace was an extensive portrayal of a limited number of protagonists in a more or less continuous and standard story context, Black Box provided a new departure: Neither novel nor short story, Black Box is a set of stories-within-a-story about several characters in Israel and abroad whose lives are interconnected.

Oz’s most striking characteristic over two decades of prolific fiction writing is his ability to experiment, not so much with subject matter, as with the literary forms used to present his realistic and convincing protagonists.

BibliographyAschkenasy, Nehama. “On Jackals, Nomads, and the Human Condition.” Midstream 29 (January, 1983): 58-60. One of the more extended reviews of Where the Jackals Howl and Other Stories.Balaban, Avraham. Between Good and Beast: An Examination of Amos Oz’s Prose. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993. Chapter 2, “Introduction to Oz: The Early Stories,” is a forty-six page detailed analysis of Where the Jackals Howl and Other Stories, including some Hebrew stories left out of the revised Hebrew edition and the English translation. The novelette collections receive much less attention in the book.Bargad, Warren. “Amos Oz and the Art of Fictional Response.” Midstream (November, 1976): 61-64. An article focusing on Unto Death.Bloom, Harold, ed. Amoz Oz. New York: Chelsea House, 1992. A collection of essays chosen to represent the spectrum of critical reception of Oz’s work. Includes an overview essay by Bloom himself.Dickstein, Morris. Review of The Hill of Evil Counsel, by Amos Oz. The New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1978, 5. The lengthiest review, surpassing by several hundred words, in its 1850 words, the review in the New York Review of Books (July 20, 1978) and The New Yorker magazine (August 7, 1978).Fuchs, Esther. Israeli Mythogynies: Women in Contemporary Hebrew Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. A six-page subsection of chapter 4, “Amos Oz: The Lack of Conscience,” focuses on Where the Jackals Howl and Other Stories, analyzed from the feminist perspective of the presentation of women from the sometimes biased male view; the other two sections discuss the image of women in Oz’s novels Elsewhere Perhaps and My Michael.Jacobson, David. Modern Midrash: The Retelling of Traditional Jewish Narratives by Twentieth-Century Hebrew Writers. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. A nine-page subsection of chapter 7, “Uses and Abuses of Power in Ancient and Modern Israel: Nissim Aloni, Moshe Shamir, and Amos Oz,” examines “Upon This Evil Earth” in Where the Jackals Howl and Other Stories as “midrash,” a commentary and expanded parable based on biblical material.McElroy, Joseph. Review of Unto Death, by Amos Oz. The New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1975, 4. The lengthiest review, surpassing, by several hundred words, in its 1100 words, the substantial review in The New Republic (November 29, 1975).Mazor, Yair. Somber Lust: The Art of Amos Oz. Translated by Margaret Weinberger-Rotman. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. A comprehensive analysis of Oz’s work, nonfiction as well as fiction. Pays special attention to the evolution of Oz’s aesthetics and ideology.Mojtabai, A. G. Review of Where the Jackals Howl and Other Stories, by Amos Oz. The New York Times Book Review, April 26, 1981, 3. The lengthiest contemporary review, 2200 words long, about a thousand words longer than the substantial reviews to be found in The New Republic (June 27, 1981), the Times Literary Supplement (September 25, 1981), Studies in Short Fiction (1982), or World Literature Today (1982).Yudkin, Leon. 1948 and After: Aspects of Israeli Fiction. Manchester, England: University of Manchester Press, 1984. The fourteen-page chapter 10, entitled “The Jackal and the Other Place: The Stories of Amos Oz,” is devoted to an analysis of Oz’s principal short fiction collections of 1965, 1971, and 1976.
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