At the time of his death two years ago, Amos Oz was almost certainly Israel’s most significant literary figure. But as his fellow novelist Ruby Namdar observes, Israelis have had an ambivalent relationship with Oz, holding him up as “a symbol—almost a fetish—of who we Israelis thought we were or fancied ourselves to be.” But at some point, Israelis soured on him:
[I]t wasn’t just Oz’s eloquence and charisma that alienated readers (and, even more so, the critics) after a certain point in his career. It was also his tendency to speak in the first person plural, even as he masterfully and sensitively depicted the marginal characters; the ease with which he assumed the prophetic mantle and spoke in the name of the collective ethos; and, finally, a certain air of entitlement, perhaps even smugness, that started to tick off many readers who had previously been drawn to his work.
Yet, Namdar writes, the Jewish state’s reading public fell in love with Oz all over again with the publication, in 2002, of his novelistic memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness. In contrast to the “outstanding tightness” of Oz’s other works, the 600-page book is, in Namdar’s mind, a “baggy monster,” at times “careless” or “sloppy,” with its “plot . . . spread thinly over too many pages.” Yet Namdar admits that it is at times “enchanting.”
[But] is it . . . the imperfections of A Tale of Love and Darkness that make it strangely accessible? Early on, Oz was admired for his sovereign mastery, the chilly perfection of his work, but this same quality eventually distanced readers and critics from him. Perhaps it was the vulnerability of this warm, rambling memoir that enabled readers to reconnect to Oz. Was our wizard easier to love when he stepped out from behind the curtain of perfection and revealed himself to be a frail old man who, no longer in possession of linguistic magic or prophetic confidence, dared to show himself as he truly was, as we all will be, alone and obsessed with his sweet and terrible memories?