Friday, 24 February 2012


This is a wonderful, eerie and satisfying read.

It is a set of powerful stories, hardly stories, perhaps better termed accounts, of characters and incidents in the village of Tel Ilan, near Tel Aviv (32 degrees North, 34 degrees East).

There is, in addition, with a sense of being an addendum, a weak story from another time and place, almost science fiction, a cataclysm fantasy of bog people and an impaired messiah, which includes the stirring line 'Words won't help.'

There are many stirring lines throughout the collection. And the occasional sound of gunfire, usually single shots, at a distance.

In Singers, a group of villagers gather in one of their homes to share food and sing songs. Pioneer songs, religious songs, comic songs. The scene is warm, communal, traditional and modern in equal measure. Late arrivals announce that the 'Air Force had bombed enemy targets.' A row develops. One of the singers, the estate agent, wonders what to do: 'Turn the other cheek.'

They sing: 'Again the song is going forth, again our days are weeping.'
The village is old in modern Israel's history. Founded over one hundred years ago, it manifests the pioneering Zionist energy that underpins that state. 

There is casual racism in Digging, the tale of Rachel and her father, a former left-wing member of the Knesset and the Arab boy, Adel, who lives in an outbuilding while writing a book on life in Jewish and Arab villages, surviving by doing odd jobs about the place. Mickey the vet, a frequent visitor to the house, asks: 
'Shall I vaccinate the Arab student who lives in your kennel too?'

There are telling descriptions of the shift to a modernity which will see the village became a satellite suburb of Tel Aviv, with modern villas – often as second homes - replacing the original dwellings of the founders. 

Farm lands become heritage sites. Boutique wineries and eateries arise to meet the demands of day-trippers. There is an eerie sense of matters from the past, lurking underground, exerting a strong pull on the present and the future.

In The Ruin, the estate agent visits a prospective client in a house he may sell:
'It has a withdrawn air, standing back from the road and surrounded by an unkempt yard, full of thistles and rusting junk.'

The reader wonders at how metaphoric Amos Oz is intending to be. Is this village standing for something more? 

It is populated by people estranged from themselves and each other. People who are self-contained, self-reliant, yet peculiarly vulnerable, occupying physical and temporal spaces that are experiencing thorough-going change.

Yaniv, the teenage son of the host family in Singing, crawled under his parents' bed and blew his brains out, with his father's gun. His parents even slept 'in the bed without realising that their son's body was underneath them.'

The reader joins the narrator, who also climbs under the bed:
'I had no further reason to turn my back on despair.'

The reader relishes the images, the language and the eerie resonances.

Scenes from Village Life: Amos Oz; book; Chatto and Windus; 2011

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