Yonatan Lifshitz, a citrus picker on the Kibbutz Granot in Israel, the twenty-six-year-old son of the kibbutz secretary. Born and reared on the commune, he is sensitive, lonely, and introverted, a decorated war hero who chafes under the Zionist views of his domineering father. Frustrated by his purposeless and restrictive life and his unsatisfying relationship with his wife, he flees to be by himself in the Jordanian desert and to seek the “perfect peace.” Contemplating suicide, he gradually begins to accept truths about himself and his life and returns to the kibbutz to live in a family with his wife and her lover.
Rimona Lifshitz, Yonatan’s wife. Elegant, subdued, unresponsive, and vague, she becomes more remote after a failed pregnancy. She has a passionless relationship with Yonatan and is unable to help him deal with his frustrations. She finds a more sympathetic relationship with Azariah Gitlin, a newcomer to the kibbutz, with whom she has a child.
Yolek Lifshitz, Yonatan’s father and secretary of the kibbutz. Crafty-looking, he is shrewd, domineering, and quick-witted. He has served in Parliament and is one of the leaders of the Israeli movement. He laments the lack of idealism in the younger members of the party and his sons, and he fears that he will never see the changes he desires. As his health and hearing deteriorate, he withdraws into silence.
Azariah Gitlin (az-ah-RI-ah), who has recently been honorably discharged from the army and joins the kibbutz as a mechanic. A child of the Holocaust, he is thin and intense. Talkative and idealistic, he relies on a barrage of quotations from Baruch Spinoza to express his ideas. He longs for recognition and fantasizes about his importance. Falling in love with Rimona, he cares for her while Yonatan is gone. He becomes an admired, hardworking, and popular member of the commune.
Hava Lifshitz (KAH-vah), Yolek’s wife, energetic and determinedly good-natured. She is contemptuous of Yolek, believing that he has “killed” her, as he is destroying Yonatan. She believes that her life has been sacrificed in serving Yolek.
Srulik (SHREW-lihk), the incoming secretary of the kibbutz. He is a German Jew, a bachelor who has lived on the kibbutz for thirty-six years, and a musician. Kind and patient, he is a philosophical observer of human nature who keeps a diary.
Amos Oz proves convincingly that, as Ernest Hemingway taught, an author writes best when he thoroughly knows the world about which he writes. Having lived continuously on a kibbutz from the age of fourteen, Oz knows of the experiences and the individuals peculiar to such an existence. His characters owe their lifelikeness in part to the fact that he is writing from semiautobiographical materials. Like Yonatan, he was a soldier who served on active duty in the Israeli army; like Azariah, he is outspoken and creative; like Srulik, he is steady and dependable, reflective, and profoundly intelligent. A master observer and a student of human behavior, Oz so selects and orders the parts of the narrative as to make them stand out dramatically. The reader of A Perfect Peace comes to know Kibbutz Granot as a real place inhabited by real people. With the modern history of Israel as their backdrop, the characters—the fictional ones and the one from real life, Levi Eshkol—seem to be realistically drawn.
What helps give the major characters wholeness and individuality is that they are tellers of their own stories; they advance the narrative by thinking or, as with Srulik, by writing down what has happened around them....
(This entire section contains 279 words.)
The lesser characters, too, have their voice, a collective one, speaking at times (especially early in the novel) in the way the chorus speaks in an ancient Greek play; this point of view is a device used to perfection by Oz to take the place of omniscience. Oz appears to be hardly present, in fact, except as a kind of stage manager who cues the players in the drama in their entrances and exits.
Alter, Robert. “The World of Oz,” in The New Republic. CXCIII (July 29, 1985), pp. 38-39.
Lyons, Gene. “Every Man Is an Island,” in Newsweek. CVI (July 29, 1985), p. 58.
Shechner, Mark. “The Uncircumcised Heart,” in The Nation. CCXL (June 8, 1985), pp. 709-711.