A Tale of Love and Darkness, written by Amos Oz and published ten years ago, finally found its way to the top of my reading list. I am so happy it did.
A Tale of Love and Darkness is a memoir by Amos Oz, famous Israeli writer. The memoir recounts the author’s life in the formative years of the State of Israel as well as the years leading up to 1948, and the lives of his parents and many relatives from various parts of Europe.
There’s great (and not so trivial) trivia about this book – a selection from the Chinese translation of A Tale of Love and Darkness was the first work of modern Hebrew literature to appear in an official Chinese textbook. Also, couple of years ago, Oz sent imprisoned Marwan Barghouti (regarded as a leader of the First and Second Intifadas) a copy of the book in Arabic translation with his personal dedication in Hebrew: “This story is our story, I hope you read it and understand us as we understand you, hoping to see you outside and in peace, yours, Amos Oz.”
Amos Oz has been a prominent advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and he often argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a war of religion or cultures or traditions, but rather a real estate dispute — one that will be resolved “not by greater understanding, but by painful compromise.”
It’s quite clear that I was initially drawn to this book because of my interest in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I was in for a surprise. First of all, Amos Oz does magic with words – his writing style and the thoughts it captures are so beautiful. He writes:
“When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner on an out-of-the-way library somehwere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver.”
So, there I was, going through the book, taking it all in, and as much as I was interested in the political aspects of the story (which offered some important insights into Israeli society – “In Jerusalem people always walked rather like mourners at a funeral, or latecomers at a concert. First they put down the tip of their shoe and tested the ground. Then once they had lowered their foot they were in no hurry to move it; we had waited two thousand years to gain a foothold in Jerusalem, and were unwilling to give it up” and “we, who had always been an oppressed minority, would treat our Arab minority fairly, justly, generously, we would share our homeland with them, share everything with them… it was a pretty dream”, are just some of Oz’s thoughts ), and as much as Oz is interested in them (they take up a lot of his life – which is normal in Israel and Palestine), this story was all about a boy who lost his mother to suicide – when he was twelve years old. Oz writes:
“There are lots of women who are attracted to tyrannical men. Like moths to a flame. And there are some women who do not need a hero or even a stormy lover but a friend. Just remember that when you grow up. Steer clear of the tryant lovers, and try to locate the ones who are looking for a man as a friend, not because they are feeling empty themselves but because they enjoy making you full too. And remember that friendship between a woman and a man is something much more precious and rare than love: love is actually something quite gross and even clumsy compared to friendship. Friendship includes a measure of sensitivity, attentiveness, generosity, and a finely tuned sense of moderation.”
This story is all about a boy who grew up to be a man, already an old man when writing this story, but still a boy who can’t understand why his mother left him, and still can’t stop wanting her to come back. A boy looking for closure he will never get. I’ve lived through some suicide stories, and there is always this reality of questions unanswered, of uncertainty… It might change with time (from anger to pain, from pain to sadness, from sadness to nostalgia) but it never goes away.
That is what Oz deals with in this family saga, and he does it in the most beautiful of ways. Heartbreaking and wonderful – read this masterpiece!
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