(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...

(The entire section is 549 words.)


(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 of Hannah’s mental life as she walks through the ruins of her adulthood and her disintegrating marriage. Hannah attempts to forge a coherent pattern to her life. Yet she discovers not only “a sameness in the days and a sameness in me” but also “something which is not the same. I do not know its name.” Hannah begins her attempt at naming this vague discomfort by recording the facts of her marriage to Michael Gonen. Hannah had met Michael, to whom she constantly refers as “my Michael,” by chance, while an undergraduate literature student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His dry, pragmatic pursuit of a Ph.D. in geology contrasts with Hannah’s passionate and lyrical literary tastes. Michael is neither witty nor particularly imaginative, yet Hannah is drawn to his stability and settledness.

Their courtship and eventual wedding are described in precise but ironically unromantic terms as something inevitable, a relationship...

(The entire section is 782 words.)