On October 20, Amos Oz’s latest book–his 14th–will get released in the United States. But it’s been out for at least a month in England, and the reviews have been strong. The word is that it’s a moving, sparely written short story collection dominated by a sense of loss. "A Chekhovian atmosphere of tragic lives misled on haunted ground," is how one critic put it.
The news that President Obama was reading another major Israeli novelist–David Grossman–got me thinking: is tragedy the new mode of Israel’s aging liberal elite? Is failure, loss, an ineluctable sense of defeat all they feel is left? Like Oz’s forthcoming book, Grossman’s wildly praised novel "To the End of the Land" was also written in an elegiac key. Reading it, you got the sense that all the characters’ lives–Ophra, the mother; her son who is killed; Sami, the Arab chauffer–could go nowhere but down. They all eventually did.
And what are we to expect from Oz, who at 72 is a perpetual Nobel Prize contender? Certainly not triumph. "Scenes from A Village," the name of the forthcoming book, is said to paint a picture of a country in decay. The book’s eight short stories are all set in the same fictional village, not far from Tel Aviv. And each appears to depict people–Arabs and Israelis, men and women, the old and the young–whose lives are shot through with defeat.
As the The Independent put it: "Surrounding all these people is an individual sense of loss: the loss of hope between Arab and Jew; the loss of potential between a young boy and an older woman; the death of a marriage after an abortion. Oz’s fast-paced dramas are gripping. A wife goes missing. A son blows his head off under his parents’ bed."
Here is another quote, taken from the book itself: "Once, a long time ago, before all this, maybe here and there some people liked each other a bit. Not everyone. Not much. Not always . . . But now? These days? Now all the hearts are dead. It’s finished."