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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316

In concentrating on his childhood in a suburb of Jerusalem, Amos Oz’s memoir explores the reasons that his mother took her own life when he was twelve years old. He addresses his departure from his family’s customs and decision to change his last name to Oz. Reaching back into the...

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In concentrating on his childhood in a suburb of Jerusalem, Amos Oz’s memoir explores the reasons that his mother took her own life when he was twelve years old. He addresses his departure from his family’s customs and decision to change his last name to Oz. Reaching back into the past before his birth, Oz reconstructs his family’s formation and links those developments to significant points in his own early life. As the autobiography progresses, the emphasis on understanding his mother’s suicide intensifies. The book was translated from Hebrew into English by Nicholas de Lange.

Growing up in an intellectual family, Oz also became aware of the distinctions between his father’s scholarly life and his mother’s nostalgia for her European upbringing. While steeped in Russian literary tradition, his father nevertheless insisted that the boy learn Hebrew but not Russian. The author considers his position within a literary heritage with his great-uncle as a key example of a prominent Israeli writer. Oz writes of his growing awareness of the political responsibilities of the artist that should play a role in scholarship. Throughout, he sees to understand the roots of his mother’s unhappiness and the reasons her stories could not relieve it.

The tragic family history that he relates includes persecution and killings in Russia, with other family members’ subsequent relocation to what was then British-Mandate Palestine. The inability to reconcile culture with repression, he comes to see, generated their mistrusting attitude toward Europe overall and Russia in particular. Oz explains how his upbringing helped him to understand the importance of establishing Israel as a Jewish state, but also his conviction of forging positive relationships with Palestinians in and around the nation. The themes of accommodation and negotiation, with the emphasis on peaceful co-existence, emerge strongly, in part with an eye toward the current security and future success of the children.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

In this autobiographical account of his family and his early life, Oz tries to penetrate the background that led to his mother’s suicide when he was twelve and to his subsequent desertion from family tradition and even from his name. The “love” of the title refers to the crosscurrents of affection through his family and perhaps to the glimmerings of romance that become visible toward the end of the book. While those unfamiliar with Oz’s life may not know in advance what the “darkness” will be, there are plenty of moments at which the approaching suicide is foreshadowed.

The structure of the book is an exercise in symmetry. As this autobiography proceeds, it oscillates between events that occurred before he was born and from his early years to those in later life. The oscillations become narrower as the book proceeds, and it becomes clear only at the end of the book that their center is his mother’s suicide.

While in his novels Oz was inclined to list the suburbs of Jerusalem, in this book he stretches the Hebrew language to its grammatical limits. Sentences run on at length to capture the actions of the characters and the responses of family members. The flavor of the Hebrew is well rendered into English by translator Nicholas de Lange, who has worked on Oz’s novels for more than thirty years.

Oz describes the wealth of the intellectual heritage in which he grew up, but even as a child he is torn between the scholarship of his father and the tales brought by his mother from Europe and reminiscent of a countryside that he had never seen. As a child he was a part of a literary culture that included many of the eminent writers in Israel, including his own great-uncle. The life of scholarship by itself was not enough to attract Oz, perhaps because he saw the difficulty of his father in achieving the position he deserved. On the other hand, the tales that his mother told did not bring her happiness or change the world, so he could not see himself solely as an artist outside of political considerations.

The autobiographical elements serve to underscore the political convictions for which Oz is best known. Oz’s uncle and cousin were killed by the Nazis, which serves as evidence for the inability of the Jews to trust European civilization, however much it may be appealing. In and around the Jews’ own country of Israel, there are Arabs who seem prepared to take Israeli lives for no purpose. As a result, Oz is not inclined to trust European civilization or his Arab neighbors. The Holocaust is evidence enough for why the Jews deserve a state of their own. While it may be hard on the Palestinians to have been displaced, the Israelis are not going to leave, but they need to accommodate the rights of their predecessors in that land. As a result, both Israelis and Palestinians must be prepared to give up something to attain peace; although neither side will be entirely happy or satisfied, the children of both nations will not be killed in the conflict and will be able to reach adulthood.

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