Amos Oz

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Amos Oz
Amos Oz © Ekko von Schwichow

Article

The Land of Oz

Amos Oz, born in 1939 in Jerusalem, is regarded as the most popular Israeli writer. The main subject of his novels is the conflict between the Zionist ideal and life in a modern, pluralistic society. Due to his troublesome highlighting of current issues, Oz is regarded as one of the undisputed moral authorities of modern Israel. As one of the leading figures of the Peace-Now movement he is campaigning for a compromise to be based on mutual recognition and coexistence between Israel and a Palestinian state.
Amos Oz was born in Jerusalem on 4 May 1939 under the name Amos Klausner, the son of a Zionist family of teachers and scholars. His family had fled in 1917 from Odessa, Ukraine, to Vilnius (then Poland) and emigrated in 1933 to Palestine. At the age of 15 – two years after his mother had committed suicide – he left Jerusalem to live and work in the Kibbutz Hulda, where he also completed his secondary education. There he adopted the name “Oz” (Hebrew for power, strength).

After his military service in the Israeli army from 1957 until 1960 the kibbutz assembly sent him back to Jerusalem to study philosophy and literature at the Hebrew University, where he gained a B.A. in 1963. During this period his first short stories were published in the leading literary quarterly Keshet. After university he returned to Hulda to divide his time between farming, writing and teaching at the kibbutz high school.

In 1965 his first volume of short stories “Artzot Ha-Tan” (“Where the Jackals Howl”) was published, a patchwork of narratives from the world of the kibbutz, whose characters are confronted with the world outside in a fantastic, surreal or comical way.

In the following year Oz published his first novel “Makom Aher” (“Elsewhere Perhaps”), which is also set in a kibbutz in the Golan. For Oz the kibbutz represents a mighty symbol for the ideals of the state of Israel and simultaneously is the microcosm of Israeli society. It is uncomfortably intimate and inescapable, but united in defence against hostile surroundings. The main subject of his novels remains the conflict between a Zionist ideal and life in a modern, pluralistic society. In many of his characters – all born like Oz himself in Israel – he reflects on the ambiguous attitude of his fellow citizens towards Israel’s Arab population, which in his works unravels either as a Shakespearian tragedy, in which a measure of justice prevails but everyone dies, or in the Chekhovian version, in which everyone ends up embittered but still alive.

As a reserve soldier Oz fought in a tank unit on the Sinai front during the Six-Day War and on the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War. Since 1967 Amos Oz has written numerous articles and essays about the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is campaigning for a compromise peace based on mutual recognition and coexistence between Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1977 Oz has been heavily involved as a leading figure of the Peace-Now Movement.

In 1968 “Michael Sheli” (“My Michael”) was published, one of Oz’s most famous novels: the story of a failed marriage, which due to its description of erotic fantasies triggered a storm of outrage as well as enthusiastic adoration in Israel and remains one of its best selling books. It was followed by “Ad Mavet” (“Unto Death”, 1971), “Laga´at Ba-Mayim Laga´at Ba-Ruah” (“Touch the Water, Touch the Wind’, 1973) and "Har Ha-Etzah Ha-Ra´ah" ("The Hill of Evil Counsel”, 1976), for which Amos Oz was awarded the renowned German Otto-Brenner prize.

In his subsequent novels, Oz concerned himself with the moral issues at stake of a country at war. In “Menuhah Nechonah” (“A Perfect Peace”, 1982), published in the year of the Lebanon invasion, Oz recounts a story from the Six-Day War, in which he focuses on the generation gap between the founding fathers and contemporary Israelis and the shift of values. Yesterday’s models have outlived themselves and cannot satisfy modern requirements.

Oz articulated his explicit disapproval of Begin’s and Sharon’s campaign of 1982 in his essay volumes “Po Ve-Sham Be-Eretz Israel” (“In the Land of Israel”, 1983) and “Mi-Mordot Lebanon” (“The Slopes of Lebanon”, 1987), in which he evaluates contemporary Jewish and Israeli conceptions of the political realities. Due to his troublesome highlighting of current issues Oz is regarded as an undisputed moral authority of modern Israel. The American magazine Newsweek commented: "Eloquent, humane, even religious in the deepest sense, Oz emerges as a kind of Zionist Orwell: a complex man obsessed with simple decency and determined above all to tell the truth, regardless of whom it offends."

In his novels he reflects the political and moral disaster of the Lebanon invasion and its repercussions on the psyche of Israeli society through the resignation and the hard-edged attitudes of his characters who are confronted with an increasing shift of values, as in the novel “Kufsah Shorah” ("Black Box" 1987). However, Oz feels that his novels are often over interpreted. Although the social and historic status of the state of Israel is depicted as the framework of his stories, unlike in his essays, the plot circles on his characters’ personal human conflicts. "One had to accept that this was the way literature was perceived in Israel, in this "Judeo-Slavonic tradition which refuses to let writers simply be writers – insisting instead that they be latter-day prophets for their people, guiding them through the wilderness", he said in an interview with the British Guardian in 2001. "No one expected Virginia Woolf to write about the Munich agreement, but everyone assumes my novels are parables about the new intifada."

In 1986 Amos Oz left the Hulda kibbutz to live with his family in Arad in the Negev desert, which was also the location of his novel “Al Tagidi Layla” ("Don’t Call It Night", 1994). His novel “Oto Ha-Yam” (“The Same Sea”, 1999), on which he worked for over five years, is his most ambitious work so far in his attempt to come to terms with details from his own life such as his mother’s suicide.

Besides numerous decorations he was awarded the Frankfurt Peace Prize in 1992. In 1997 he received from President Chirac the French cross of the Knight of the Légion d’Honneur. Amos Oz teaches literature at Ben-Gurion-University of Beer-Shewa.


Author: Michael von Assel 

Bio

Amos Oz was born in Jerusalem on 4 May 1939 under the name Amos Klausner the son of a Zionist family of teachers and scholars. His family had fled in 1917 from Odessa (Ukraine) to Vilnius (then Poland) and emigrated in 1933 to Palestine. At the age of 15– two years after his mother had committed suicide– he left Jerusalem to live and work in Kibbutz Hulda, where he also completed his secondary education. There he adopted the name "Oz”. After his military service in the Israeli army from 1957 until 1960 he studied philosophy and literature at the Jerusalem Hebrew University, where he gained his B.A.-degree in 1963. During this time his first short stories were published in the literary quarterly "Keshet". In 1965 his first volume of short stories "Artzot Ha-Tan” ("Where The Jackals Howl") was published. In 1966 Oz published his first novel "Makom Aher" ("Elsewhere Perhaps").As a reserve soldier Oz fought in the Six Day War and in the Yom-Kippur-War. Since 1967 Amos Oz has written numerous articles and essays about the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1968 "Michael Sheli” ("My Michael") was published, followed by "Ad Mavet" ("Unto Death", 1971), "Laga´at Ba-Mayim Laga´at Ba-Ruah" ("Touch the Water, Touch the Wind", 1973) and "Har Ha-Etzah Ha-Ra´ah" ("The Hill of Evil Counsel", 1976), for which Amos Oz was awarded the German Otto-Brenner prize. In 1969/70 Oz was a "Visiting Fellow" at Oxford’s St. Cross College. Since 1977 Oz has been heavily involved as one of the leading figures in the Peace-Now movement. Oz articulated his explicit disapproval of Begin’s and Sharon’s campaign of 1982 in his essay volumes "Po Ve-Sham Be-Eretz Israel" ("In the Land of Israel", 1983) and "Mi-Mordot Lebanon" ("The Slopes of Lebanon", 1987). In 1985 Oz lived as ‘Writer in Residence" at Colorado Springs College, USA. In 1986 Amos Oz left kibbutz Hulda to live with his family in Arad in the Negev desert.

Oz has written 18 books in Hebrew, and about 450 articles and essays. His works have been translated into some 30 languages

Works

Rhyming Life and Death

Published Written,
2007
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

How to Cure a Fanatic

Published Written,
2006
Princeton University Press: Oxford. Reprint 2010

Suddenly in the Depth of the Forest (A Fable for all ages)

Published Written,
2005

Help us to Divorce

Published Written,
2004
Essays. Vintage: London

A Tale of Love and Darkness

Published Written,
2004
Novel. Chatto & Windus: London

Enemies : A Love Affair

Published Written,
2002
Erzählungen. Swiridoff: Künzelsau

The Same Sea

Published Written,
2001
Novel. Chatto & Windus: London

The Silence of Heaven: Agnon´s Fear of God

Published Written,
2000
Essays. Princeton University Press: Princeton

The Story Begins

Published Written,
1999
Essays. Chatto & Windus: London

Panther in the Basement

Published Written,
1997
Children´s book. Vintage: London

Under this Blazing Light

Published Written,
1995
Essays. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge: Cambridge

Don´t Call It Night

Published Written,
1995
Novel. Chatto & Windus: London

The Tanner Lectures on Human Values

Published Written,
1994
Essays. University of Utah Press: Salt Lake City

Israel, Palestine and Peace

Published Written,
1994
Essays. Vintage: London

Fima

Published Written,
1993
Novel. Chatto & Windus: London

The Slopes of Lebanon

Published Written,
1990
Essays. Chatto and Windus: London

To Know a Woman

Published Written,
1989
Novel. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: San Diego

Black Box

Published Written,
1988
Novel. Chatto & Windus: London

Until Daybreak : Stories from the Kibbutz

Published Written,
1985
Short stories. Hakibbutz Hameuchad Pub. House: not stated

A Perfect Peace

Published Written,
1985
Novel. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: San Diego

Israeli Literature : A Case of Reality Reflecting Fiction

Published Written,
1985
Essays. Colo: Colorado Springs

In the Land of Israel

Published Written,
1983
Talks. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich: San Diego

Where the Jackals Howl

Published Written,
1981
Short stories. Chatto & Windus: London

Soumchi

Published Written,
1980
Novel. Harper & Row: New York

The Hill of Evil Counsel

Published Written,
1978
Short stories. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York

Unto Death

Published Written,
1977
Short stories. Fontana: London

Touch the Water

Published Written,
1975
Novel. Chatto & Windus: London

Elsewhere, Perhaps

Published Written,
1974
Novel. Secker and Warburg: London

My Michael

Published Written,
1972
Novel. Chatto & Windus: London

Merits

1969/70 "Visiting Fellow" at Oxford’s St. Cross College
1976 Otto-Brenner Prize
1985 "Writer in Residence" at Colorado Springs College, USA
1988 Prix Femina Étranger
1990 "Author in Residence" at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University
1992 Frankfurt Peace Prize
1997 Cross of the Knight of the Légion d’Honneur
1998 Israel Prize for Literature
2004 Ovid Prize from the city of Neptun, Romania
2005 Goethe Prize from the city of Frankfurt
2006 Jerusalem-Agnon Prize
2006 Corine Prize (Germany)
2007 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature (Spain)
2008 German President´s High Honor Award; Primo Levi Prize (Italy); Heinrich Heine Prize of Düsseldorf (Germany); Honorary Degree from the University of Antwerp; Tel Aviv University´s Dan David Prize for "Creative Rendering of the Past"
2010 Honorary Fellowship from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; Siegfried Unseld Prize, jointly with Sari Nusseibeh

Www

Article in the Guardian

A life in writing: Amos Oz - ´If every last Palestinian refugee was settled in the West Bank and Gaza, it would still be less crowded than Belgium´
(2009)

Article of the author in Israel Opinion

Don’t march into Gaza - Invasion will result in high casualty toll; we must find way to ease Gaza despair
(2008)

Article in Israel Opinion

Amoz Oz is most translated Israeli author