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|Amos Oz (b. 1939)|
Israeli novelist, short-story writer, and essayist writing in Hebrew. Amos Oz's books have been translated into more than thirty languages. Central themes in his fiction are loneliness, rootlessness, and the tension between inner life, mystical yearning, and outer reality. As a political essayist Oz has dealt with major national controversies, Zionism, the relations between Jews and Arabs, and the return of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Oz has campaigned for a Palestinian homeland in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Wherever war is called peace, where oppression and persecution are referred to as security, and assassination is called liberation, the defilement of the language precedes and prepares for the defilement of life and dignity." (from Israel, Palestine and Peace, 1995)
Amos Oz was born Amos Klausner in Jerusalem into a family of scholars and teachers. Both of Oz's parents were Zionist immigrants from Eastern Europe. Yehuda Arieh Klausner, his father, was a librarian and writer, who spoke eleven languages, and later received his doctorate from London University. Oz's mother, Fania Mussman, read seven or eight languages. Mostly Oz's parents read books in German or English, at home they spoke Russian and Polish, but the only language they taught him at home was Hebrew.
Oz's mother, who had suffered from depression, committed suicide in 1952; she was 38 years old. "For every true writer becomes a writer because of a profound trauma experienced in youth or childhood," Oz has said (The Silence of Heaven, 1993). After his father remarried, Oz left home and settled at the Kibbutz Hulda, where he took the surname Oz, a Hebrew word meaning "strenght" or "courage". In 1960 Oz married Nily Zuckerman, the daughter of the librarian of the kibbutz. Between 1957 and 1960 Oz served in the Israeli Army. In the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War Oz fought as a reserve soldier with a tank unit.
Oz received his B.A. in Hebrew literature and philosophy in 1963 from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, where he was sent by the General Assembly of the kibbutz. After graduating, Oz worked as a teacher of literature and philosophy at Hulda High School and Regional High School, Givat Brenner.
Where the Jackals Howl, Oz's first collection of short stories, appeared in 1965. Its provocative opening story, 'Nomad and Viper', has been compared to E.M. Forster's A Passage to India (924). This collection was followed by a novel about kibbutz life, Elsewhere, Perhaps (1966). Oz's breakthrough work, My Michael (1968), was a story about a young woman, Hannah, who tries to find a way out of her bourgeois life and marriage through self-destructive fantasies. At the end she imagines sending her childhood friends, Arab twins, on a commando raid on a farm. The psychological novel was a bestseller but also created controversy. In A Perfect Peace (1982) a young man leaves his home, the secure world of the kibbutz, but do not survive in the desert without the help of a female soldier and an old man. Eventually, after misadventures, he returns to his house to live a quiet life.
While living on the kibbutz, Oz did his share of manual labor, carried trays into the dining room, drove the tractor, farmed, and taught in the kibbutz school. Royalties from his publications went into the general coffers. In the beginning of his literary career, Oz wrote in his spare time, mostly in the hours before sunrise. After gaining success with his books, published by the Labor Party press, Am Oved, he was allowed to devote more of his time to writing.
Oz's characters are torn between forces and conflict of motives-their own desires and social reality, irrational impulses and obsessions. Patience and compromise are their keys to stability. The experimental work Black Box (1987), which also became a bestseller, consisted of letters between members of a broken family, revealing through their voices personal anguishes, as well the diverse realities of Israeli life. The burden of past is always present in the lives of Oz's characters, but his fiction is decidedly contemporary in its concerns. History is biography, Oz has once argued. In his book of memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness (2002), Oz explored the traumatic effect of his mother's death on his life and career.
His career as a political essayist Oz started immediately after the Six Day War in 1967 with an article deprecating the use of the term "liberated territories". Although he was born in Jerusalem, he could not rejoice in the annexation of Arab East Jerusalem: "My dreams had deceived me," he later wrote. In the Land of Israel (1983), a collection of essays based on interviews made in the aftermath of the Lebanon War in 1982, Oz examined the past and present of his country. Originally the essays appeared in the newspaper Davar. Viewing with suspicion the ideals of the founders of modern Israel, Oz concludes: "Perhaps we should have aimed for less. Perhaps there was a wild pretension here, beyond our capabilities-beyond human capabilities. Perhaps we must limit ourselves and forgo the rainbow of messianic dreams. . . ." Oz has also published a number of essays on literary criticism, especially on the work of S.Y. Agnon, whom Oz regards as one of his literary mentors. In The Story Begins (1995) Oz analyzed how such writers as Gogol, Kafka Chekhov, García Márquez, and Raymond Carver open their stories.
Oz was a founding member of the Peace Now movement in 1977 and has advocated the idea of an exchange of land for peace. "What we require is a divorce between Israel and the Palestinians, followed by the partitioning of a very small apartment," Oz said in 1991 in an interview (The New York Times, April 14, 1991). Before becoming a supporter of Meretz, a left wing social democratic party, he had close connections with the Israeli Labor Party and its leader Shimon Peres. In an article written for the Los Angeles Times in July 2006, Oz supported the Israeli army in its war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but in August, along with A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, Oz urged the Israeli Prime Minister to reach a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hezbollah forces. Following President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on the country's uprising, Oz and other writers, such as Umberto Eco, David Grossman, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, and Wole Soyinka, urged in June 2011 the United Nations to condemn the repression in Syria as a crime against humanity.
Oz lived on the kibbutz until he moved with his family in 1986 to Arad, in the south of Israel. Oz has been a visiting fellow at the St. Cross College, Oxford (1969-70), a writer-in-residence or visiting professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem (1975), the University of California, Berkeley (1980), the Colorado College, Colorado Springs (1984-85), Boston University (1987), and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem (1990). In 1987 Oz was appointed professor of Hebrew literature at the Ben Gurion University, Beer-Sheva. Oz's many awards include the Holon Prize (1965), the Israel-American Cultural Foundation Award (1968), the B'nai B'rith award (1973), the Brenner prize (1976), the Ze'ev award for children's books (1978), the Bernstein prize (1983), the Bialik prize (1986), the H.H. Wingate award (1988), Prix Femina Étranger (1988), the German Publishers' Union international peace prize (1992), the French cross of the Knight of the Légion d'Honneur (1997), the Israel Prize for Literature (1998), and the Goethe Prize in 2005.
For further reading: Voices of Israel by Joseph Cohen (1990); Between God and Beast: an Examination of Amos Oz's Prose by Avraham Balaban (1993); Contemporary World Authors, ed. by Tracy Chevalier (1993); Encyclopedia of World Authors in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Somber Lust: the Art of Amos Oz by Yair Mazor (2002); Great World Writers: Twentieth Century, Vol. 9, ed. Patrick M. O'Neil (2004)