Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz

The international press hailed this book as a parable about what really goes on in Israeli society today.
     Scenes from Village Life cannot be described as a novel nor as a short-story collection. It features a number of interconnected tales, which I would simply describe as short glimpses of everyday life.
     The stories take place in the fictitious village of Tel Ilan, where lately a lot of strange things happen to some quite common people. Firstly, in Heirs, we have the story of a retired lawyer who lives in a house with his bedridden ninety year old mother and spends all his time doing absolutely nothing. Their every day is a copy of the one before and nothing much seems to happen, until a strange man arrives claiming that he’s a relative and turns things upside down. In Relations we read about a woman that feels really disappointed when her beloved nephew does not arrive with the bus and does something way out of character. Digging is the story of a retired army officer that every night hears someone digging underneath his house. He suspects that behind all that is Abel, an Arab student and aspiring author who lives in a shed in the garden, but his daughter Rachel just thinks he’s crazy. However soon enough she’ll have to change her mind, since Abel will start hearing the strange sounds as well. The old man, despite his past, seems to understand the reasons why the Arabs do not like the Israelis, while he thinks that after everything that has come to pass the only thing that one is left to feel is melancholy. In Lost we follow in the footsteps of a real estate agent who’s about to close the deal of his life, a fact that was supposed to, but fails to make him happy. So he starts wandering the streets in the night, thinking about his life, which leads him to the discovery of a suspicious package and the warmth of a woman’s embrace. Yet another unexpected occurrence, the disappearance of his wife, leads the mayor of the village to wander the streets at night as well, with a dog following his every step and keeping him company, in Waiting. Strangers talks about a love affair that was never meant to be. A seventeen year old boy is in love with the village’s postmistress, but when he finally manages to get close to her things take an unexpected turn. Singing, the last story, describes the meeting of some colorful characters in a house, where they spend their time singing and talking about politics. Their host, and narrator of the story, doesn’t seem to stand them anymore, so she escapes the living room and rushes to the master bedroom, where she hides under the bed, wanting to feel that she was “in a faraway place at another time.” The image she projects is bleak, just like the past.
     If I’d have to describe these texts in simple words I’d just say that what we have right here is the stories of some more or less common people; weak people and somewhat strong people; sanguine people and sad people; people full of insecurities and doubts about the future and questions about the world that’s destined to die. The author paints the picture of a micro-society where anything could happen at any given moment and it does. Just like in real life.
     This is the first book by Amos Oz that I’ve read and so I can’t really say whether it’s his best or not. What I definitely can say though is that it’s extremely well-written and it becomes lyrical at times, and thus can offer a lot of joy to the reader. Recommended.

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