Set in a small settlement in a small country, A Perfect Peace is about, for one thing, seeking freedom from containment. One who is unfulfilled at home dreams of magic and beauties to be found in another place; the adventurer wanders; the philosopher propounds and prophesies; the political has-been rages against new generations. The Promised Land is always ahead; the unpromising and undesired one, always current. How to live with the fact of containment—and its claustrophobic consequences for some—is another concern of the novel. The author’s view is likely that of Srulik: to make the best of things. One way to make the best of things is to learn to live with others; the novel demonstrates the possibility of community among mixed peoples, disparate not only in nationalities but also in ideas and life-styles.Kibbutz Granot is a microcosm of Israel, a land struggling to find unity and purpose.
Opposed to Israel’s well-being as a nation are internal political, philosophical and religious factions and, outside, perpetual threats of war. Azariah, a man of peace, prophesies war, but anyone could have done so, for war in Israel is constantly at hand. From the first words of the novel, Oz, with the facts of the modern history of Israel in sight, ironically dramatizes a period of peace before a time of war. The presence of Sheikh Dahr, an abandoned Arab settlement near the kibbutz, is a reminder of past wars and of the likelihood of future ones.
War, however, is not the private lot of the Jewish people; it is as universal and as elemental as nature itself, occurring in a quiet and lovely place as well as in a menacing location. Nature, nevertheless, is indifferent to the comings and goings, the wars and times of peace, of human beings. Only human beings can make or cause war, or peace. The title of the novel is from a phrase in the Jewish prayer for the dead. The interpretation of the word “peace,” however, depends on the individual perspectives of the characters. Yonatan goes in search of the peace of solitude and of freedom from responsibility. Azariah, on the other hand, seeks the very peace that Yonatan leaves behind, that which comes from domestic serenity, security, and acceptance. Yonatan has already had what Azariah has wanted to have, a wife and a home and a community; Azariah has already been what Yonatan has wanted to be, a free spirit and a wanderer. How does Yolek find peace? He does not: Until the time when, because of his poor health, he can no longer think or do for himself, he relives the past of bitter experiences. His personal wars go on forever, if only in his thoughts. He gives a special meaning to generational conflicts by warring with both youth and the past. Hava comes to terms with her husband by coming to terms with herself; when she no longer needs the self-assurance that comes, often, from being loved and appreciated by others, she is able to forget herself and find peace in helping others, including the man, her husband, with whom she had fought so many verbal battles. Rimona’s peace is the result of her first successful childbirth. Peace for Srulik comes—as one might expect—on its own, without anxious seeking, in the normal course of events. Peace is available to those who wish it, Oz makes clear, and any kind of peace may be a perfect peace.