Amos Oz 1939–-
(Born Amos Klausner) Israeli novella and short story writer, novelist, biographer, and essayist.
The following entry provides criticism on Oz's short fiction from 1978 to 2001.
Amos Oz is among the most critically acclaimed and widely popular Israeli fiction writers to emerge in the late twentieth century. His short fiction grapples with dilemmas concerning modern Israeli politics and ancient biblical doctrine. Oz's stories, which contain strong elements of realism, often have allegorical or fantastic qualities as well.
Oz was born on May 4, 1939, in Jerusalem, Israel, with the given name Amos Klausner. He served in the Israeli Army from 1957 to 1960, and fought as a reserve soldier in the Six Day War of 1967, as well as the Yom Kippur War of 1970. Oz graduated with a B.A. from Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1963, and earned a master's degree from St. Cross College in Oxford, England, in 1970. He taught literature and philosophy at Hulda High School in Israel from 1963 to 1986. Since 1986 he has been a professor at Ben Gurion University Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel. He served as a visiting professor or writer-in-residence at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Colorado College, University of California at Berkeley, Boston University, and Princeton University. Oz's experiences living on the kibbutz have informed much of his fiction, in which the microcosm of Jewish community often serves as an analogy for the Israeli nation. Oz, who is a member of Peace Now, is outspoken about his political opinions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His several volumes of essays address the many nuances of Israel's relationship with the Arab populations of the Middle East.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Oz’s short stories and novellas are often allegories for the problems facing modern Israel. His first collection, Artzot ha’ tan (1965; Where the Jackals Howl, and Other Stories), utilizes the image of the jackal to symbolize the hostility and danger Israel faces from its neighbors and from internal dissension. In “Before His Time” a man engages in struggle with the jackals that threaten the borders of the kibbutz. In the end, the jackals win out over the man, as they eat the flesh from the corpse of his son, who has died in military combat. Other stories in Where the Jackals Howl, and Other Stories address internal conflicts with the kibbutz community, particularly the tensions between the needs of the individual and the idealistic vision of communal life. In “A Crack Open to the Wind,” a man living on a kibbutz finds that a crack has opened in the wall of his room, but his efforts to enlist the bureaucratic authorities of the kibbutz to repair the crack fail. After befriending a wild jackal, he is inspired to fix the crack on his own.
Oz’s novellas address broader national and historical subject matter and combine realism with allegorical qualities. In Late Love (1971), a Jewish man on a lecture tour of Israeli kibbutzim becomes obsessed with the potential threat of the Soviet Union to the survival of the Jews. He ultimately descends into a delusional paranoia in which he fantasizes about a massive Jewish retaliation against both Russians and Nazis. The three novellas included in Har he’etza ha’raah (1976; The Hill of Evil Counsel) are set in the final days of the British Mandate in Palestine during the years 1946-47. All three novellas feature young boys who harbor a passionate sense of Hebrew nationalism. In the title novella The Hill of Evil Counsel, a married Polish-Jewish woman meets a British army officer at a house party at the residence of the high commissioner, located where British governmental forces in Jerusalem were housed. The woman, Ruth, runs off with the British soldier; in the process she abandons not only her husband but also her son, who is subsequently molested by his neighbors. Two central themes in Oz’s fiction—modern Israeli politics and ancient Biblical doctrine—are addressed in Panter ba-martel (1995; Panther in the Basement). In this novella, the young protagonist grapples with his stance toward both Judaism and Israeli nationalism.
Oz is recognized as one of the most important Israeli writers of his generation. His representation of the complexities of life on the kibbutz and the conflicts inherent in Israeli politics have earned him widespread praise. Commentators also commend his attempts to evaluate the significance of ancient religious doctrine to modern Israel and his exploration of such universal themes as man’s relationship with nature, the flesh versus spirit, the struggle between the individual and the collective, the struggle for survival, and the conscious versus the unconscious. While many critics have offered the highest praise for Oz’s short fiction, some feminist critics find his representations of women to be stereotypical and misogynist. He has received many awards for his work, including the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (France) in 1997 and the 1998 Israel Prize for Literature.