Issue 12: Vhcle Books: A Tale of Love and Darkness
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Oz’s neighbourhood of Kerem Avraham was, before it became a poor, ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood, a poor, secular neighbourhood. An only child, Oz lived with his mother and father, who was a university librarian, in a small ground-floor apartment where his parents’ bedroom was also the study, library, dining room, and living room. Oz recalls a childhood were sardines were a treat and there were only two types of cheese – white and yellow – but one where he developed a love of language and of books. “When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book,” he writes.
But when Amos Oz was twelve, nearly four years after independence, his mother took her own life. Like her son she was dreamy and romantic, but she was also melancholic and sickly, prone to the flu and migraines, a sufferer of insomnia and loss of appetite. On the day she passed, she had on the advice of her doctor been walking around Tel Aviv in the rain, which combined with her refusal to eat worsened her symptoms. Before sleep, she poured herself a glass of tea and took her sleeping pills, and save the moment in the night where she threw up and fell back asleep, she did not awake again. “If I had been there with her in that room, I would certainly have tried my hardest to explain to her why she mustn’t,” Oz writes, speaking of the cocktail of pills and ointments she took that ultimately claimed her. “But I was not allowed to be there.”
Love and darkness are inherent to the stories of the Jewish people, Israel, and Israeli individuals and families. Israel is a country where Independence Day is preceded by Memorial Day – solemn commemoration coming right before jubilant celebration – and where few have been spared the loss of a loved one to war, terror, or the Shoah. Israel is now 65 years old, and Amos Oz has lived to see every one of them. His own tale of love and darkness, then, is as much the story of his life as that of a nation, and remains as such more than worthy of our attention.
Read this review in Issue 12

Liam Hoare is a freelance writer whose work on politics and literature has featured in
The Forward, The Atlantic, and The Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of University College London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies.
When Amos Oz was eight, he was a witness to the birth of a new nation.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, thus allowing for the possibility of a Jewish state there. As Oz describes in his poetic, wandering memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, it was after midnight when on Amos Street, his “faraway street on the edge of Kerem Avraham in northern Jerusalem,” shouts first of terror then of unadulterated joy “tore through the darkness and the buildings and trees”. Oz, who had been listening to the vote on the radio, ran out into the throng and sat upon his father’s shoulders as they danced into the night, singing Zionist songs and weeping at the prospect of Israel’s rebirth.
At around three or four in the morning, Oz crawled into bed fully dressed. His father lay beside him, and proceeded to tell him of life in the old country, how in Odessa and Vilna he and his brother were bullied, harassed, and attacked. Henceforth, Oz’s father said to him in the dimness, “From the moment we have our own state, you will never be bullied just because you are a Jew and because Jews are so-and-sos. Not that. Never again. From tonight that’s finished here. For ever.” This is the only time in Oz’s life, not even when his mother passed, that he saw his father cry.
Then, at seven o’clock on November 30, just three hours after all of Jewish Jerusalem had emptied to celebrate partition, shots were fired at a Jewish ambulance that was transiting through an Arab neighbourhood. What commenced was what amounted to a civil war, running in the months between the UN vote and Israel’s declaration of independence. Jerusalem became cut off from Tel Aviv: the schools closed; food and oil was rationed; and Oz recollects the stone houses in Kerem Avraham shaking as the shells landed around them.
One week after Amos Oz turned nine, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was declared established. One minute after midnight, Israel was assaulted on multiple fronts by several nations and militia, capturing the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the surrounding hills. Greta Gat, Oz’s child-minder who used to drag him clothes-shopping with her stepped out onto her balcony to hang her washing and was hit by a sniper’s bullet. Zipporah Yannai, a friend of Oz’s mother, went into her yard to fetch a bucket and washcloth and was killed instantaneously, hit directly by a shell. The Arab-Israeli War was a national tragedy, but a personal one too.
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A Tale of Love and Darkness

Amos Oz
Reviewed by Liam Hoare
Vhcle Books, Issue 12
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