My Michael Summary
by Amos Klausner

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My Michael Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

My Michael was the first of Oz’s novels to enjoy wide sales in the original Hebrew-language edition and his first novel to be translated into English. The narrator of the book is often seen as a fictionalized version of Oz’s mother, although the novel does not conclude with the narrator’s death. Instead, the novel ends with the narrator’s descent into a world of her own, where the visions that she described earlier take on an apocalyptic character. There is an air of destruction in the closing pages that is reminiscent of Moby Dick (1851), one of the novels that influenced Oz.

From the beginning of the book, there is a sense that the narrator and her husband, the Michael of the title, are mismatched. The warmth of their relationship is tepid, at best, and the wife maintains a sense of distance from her husband and from the subjects in which he is interested. The fact that he is a geologist, while she is a student of the humanities, serves as an excuse for her to ignore his scholarly work. When she eventually pays a visit to the university where he works, there is a sense on both of their parts that this is a merely a gesture of politeness.

Politeness is not something the narrator values in the dream world in which she comes increasingly to reside. In that world, she sees herself as a queen, with servants like Michael Strogoff from Jules Verne’s novel of that name and with foes out to destroy the realm over which she rules. She remembers an illness during her childhood when she was confined to bed and how much she enjoyed the solitude, being allowed to spend time with her dreams. In an adult world she still manages to find an excuse for succumbing to illness in order to keep the world at arm’s length.

Almost the only character with whom the narrator interacts in a personal fashion is a teenage poet who lives nearby. She is inclined to tease him, but it may be partly because he is closer to the age at which she saw herself as happiest. Her effect on his life is disruptive, but he recovers and is sent off to a different environment. Her husband is unable to play a role in her imagination, and his efforts at restoring their relationship do not succeed. The failure of the narrator to fit into the world around her is characteristic of the disruptive effect of women characters in Oz’s fiction.

Two characters that appear in her visions are Arab brothers whom she knew in childhood. From a relatively benign presence, they become more and more threatening, until by the end of the book they are cooperating with her in an effort to blow up Jerusalem. One can argue that these are Arab individuals, who, in reality, could easily be part of a constructive environment but who, in dreams, become dangerous allies. Even in the closing pages, Oz maintains a vision of the real Jerusalem that surrounds the narrator, while she is preoccupied with Danzig and other cities she knows only by name. The descent into madness takes place while the rest of the world goes on, and the internal life betrays its inhabitant.

Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

My Michael begins as an epistolary novel set in Jerusalem in the 1950’s, a place and time which constituted, as Amos Oz has said, “a Jewish anticlimax after the tragedies and achievements of the forties.” The novel consists of the journal entries of Hannah Gonen, a despairing Israeli housewife retracing the important events and aspirations of her young life. From the beginning, she tells the reader mysteriously that she is keeping her record specifically “because people I loved have died...because when I was young I was full of the power of loving, and now that power of loving is dying. I do not want to die.” Her power to love and to live becomes inextricably interwoven with her ability to separate dream from reality in her journal, an ability which fails her as the novel moves to its denouement.

What begins as a seemingly straightforward, dispassionate chronology of events soon devolves into an idiosyncratic, often fragmentary account...

(The entire section is 1,331 words.)