There is nothing better than finding a book you have never heard of and completely falling in love with it. I picked up this autobiographical novel at a used bookstore for the simple reason that it was on the ‘1001 Books to Read Before You Die’ list. Although my simple review cannot possibly cover everything great about this work, I will give it my best effort.
Amos Oz is regarded as Israel’s most famous living author. He has received numerous accolades as a journalist, a writer, a teacher, and a scholar. On the surface, his autobiography ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ is the story about the unfortunate suicide of his mother. However, much like Oz himself, there is much more beneath its surface. This is a memoir that weaves a much grander story about war, hardships, and survival told in a way that is poignant and humorous at the same time. There were moments that made me laugh and moments that made me cry, often at the same time.
Oz achieves literary perfection by weaving a story surrounding the last years of the British mandate with a more personal story at its heart. Oz goes into detail about the relationships with each of his parents. His father, an ambitious scholar that could speak a multitude of languages, was forced to settle for job as a librarian. Oz’s mother Fania suffered from depression that progressed until she killed herself due to an overdose of sedatives when he was just twelve years old. Oz explores how these relationships shaped his life leading to his decision as a teenager to live on a kibbutz, a communal settlement in Israel. Against this personal tale, there is the backdrop of the struggles of the Jewish people following World War II.
The book is structured in a non-linear fashion, which worked very well. There are some great moments of humor as Oz recalls various members of his family. Mixed with emotional moments regarding the tragic decline of his mother, this is a work that really had an impact on me emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. There are so many facets to this novel, as it can be enjoyed as a fragment of human history, a deep psychological allegory, or as a poignant tale of how a mother’s death affects someone. Oz has a great talent for creating a large epic with a lot of heart.
“When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner on an out-of-the-way library somewhere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver.”