Monday 4 August 2014

Love and Darkness

The war between Hamas and Israel is ongoing at the moment, with the poor Palestinians stuck in the middle and Israel and the Jews blamed for all their pain. Anti-Semitism re-emerges from hidden places, a smile on its ugly face.

Amos Oz is a good companion in these times, because he writes about the pain and the worry of loving. I have re-read his A Tale of Love and Darkness slowly, during these terrible days.

I must get hold of the book in Hebrew. Time and again I found myself time and again translating the English words into Hebrew, recognising a Biblical lilt or a Zionist tune. Nicholas de Lange is an excellent translator, but still.

Amos Oz repeats himself. Some repeating feels true, as when he hears the bird singing the first five notes of
 Beethoven's Fuer Elise; at other times the recurrence seems laboured. Has the book been written according to a cyclical structure, where the same things the same people and similar situations keep returning, as in real life, faster and faster as we grow older, and we are given (by whom?) a chance to consider them from slightly different angles each time?

Much to do with language, its roots and the directions they take, a family obsession.

One section I loved: on p. 24, as a child of six he is taught 'the facts of life' by his father - how to arrange books on a bookcase - their backs to the world and facing the wall (the way Zen practitioners meditate).
He arranged them according to size, to his father's dismay. His father listed many different ways in which books might be arranged: those were the facts of life - diversity!

I found that portion thrilling. As a child, Amos Oz did not yearn to become a writer, but to become a book, which may never be completely destroyed, but a copy of which will survive in a bookshop somewhere; I think of the antiquarian bookshop Quilter's, here in Wellington, which is the kind of bookshop where his books might be found.

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