Amos Oz, original name Amos Klausner, (born May 4, 1939, Jerusalem), Israeli novelist, short-story writer, and essayist in whose works Israeli society is unapologetically scrutinized.
Oz was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the University of Oxford. He served in the Israeli army (1957–60, 1967, and 1973). After the Six-Day War in 1967, he became active in the Israeli peace movement and with organizations that advocated a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to writing, he worked as a part-time schoolteacher and labourer.
Oz’s symbolic, poetic novels reflect the splits and strains in Israeli culture. Locked in conflict are the traditions of intellect and the demands of the flesh, reality and fantasy, rural Zionism and the longing for European urbanity, and the values of the founding settlers and the perceptions of their skeptical offspring. Oz felt himself unable to share the optimistic outlook and ideological certainties of Israel’s founding generation, and his writings present an ironic view of life in Israel.
His works of fiction include Artsot ha-tan (1965; Where the Jackals Howl, and Other Stories), Mikhaʾel sheli (1968; My Michael), La-gaʿat ba-mayim, la-gaʿat ba-ruaḥ (1973; Touch the Water, Touch the Wind), Kufsah sheḥora (1987; Black Box), and Matsav ha-shelishi (1991; The Third State). Oto ha-yam (1999; The Same Sea) is a novel in verse. The memoir Sipur ʿal ahavah ve-ḥoshekh (2002; A Tale of Love and Darkness) drew wide critical acclaim. Temunot me-hạye ha-kefar (2009; Scenes from Village Life) and Ben hạverim (2012; Between Friends) were, respectively, a novel set in an Israeli village and a collection of short stories set on a kibbutz. Ha-Beśorah ʿal-pi Yehudah (2014; “The Gospel According to Judas”) investigates the nature of betrayal by weaving a contemporary dialogue about Israel with an alternate history of Judas Iscariot and his motivations. The novel received the German Internationaler Literaturpreis (International Literature Prize) in 2015.
Oz was among the editors of Siaḥ loḥamim (1968; The Seventh Day), a collection of soldiers’ reflections on the Six-Day War. His political essays are collected in such volumes as Be-or ha-tekhelet ha-ʿazah (1979; Under This Blazing Light) and Be-ʿetsem yesh kan shete milḥamot (2002; “But These Are Two Different Wars”). How to Cure a Fanatic (2006) is an English-language collection of two essays by Oz and an interview with him. With historian Fania Oz-Sulzberger (his daughter) he wrote Jews and Words (2012), a collection of meditations on, and analyses of, various Jewish texts.
by Amos Oz
The Israeli writer and peace advocate Amos Oz spoke at the funeral of his friend Shimon Peres a few weeks ago.
He talked about the late Israeli statesman's two conflicting sides "that can't co-exist — on the one hand a deep respect for reality and its constraints, and the other an impulse to change that reality."
That observation also seems to apply to Oz's new novel, Judas. It's set in Jerusalem in 1959, and two of its characters are men with political outlooks that seemingly cannot co-exist. Both are Jews; one sees war as something necessary, an inevitable fact of Israel's being an independent Jewish state, something necessary. The other opposed Israel's very claim to statehood, believing that that claim caused the first Arab-Israeli war — and for expressing that position, he was branded a traitor.
Oz tells NPR's Robert Siegel that he chose to set the book in 1959 because he wanted to "go back to the roads not taken." It's a novel of ideas, he says, "where different people argue vehemently and where I actually do not take anyone's side."
On Judas and the idea of being a traitor
Well I've been called a traitor a few times in my life by some of my countrymen. But this is no exception. Almost every person who steps out of the consensus is accused of treason by his contemporaries, or by her contemporaries. In fact, my protagonist in this novel, Shmuel Ash, says that a traitor is very often simply a person who changes in the eyes of those who despise change, who mistrust change, who are antagonized to every change.
On the three people at the heart of the novel
[One] is very skeptical about world reforming, and about any ideology, and about all religions — he thinks all of them, without exception, ultimately lead to violence and bloodshed. There is on the other hand a young, idealistic world reformer who changes in the course of the novel, and who is obsessed by the story of Judas and Jesus. And there is a middle-aged woman — angry, injured, cynical, untrusting of the entire male sex, whom she thinks consists of people who will never grow up; eternal adolescents who are fascinated by bloodshed and by violence. So those two, three different people, who really represent three different planets, they talk to each other and they reshape each other, and they end up after three months almost loving one another.
On whether he feels hopeful about Israeli life
You know, I feel much more comfortable talking about the past than about the future. I'm old enough to know that life is full of surprises, and this is true of this country as much as it is true of Israel. I have seen people surprising not only others but even themselves. I have seen people doing — leaders, political leaders, intellectuals, writers, poets, artists — I have seen them doing things which surprised themselves, not just the listeners or the viewers or the media. By the way, that's how I make a living. The microphone which I'm using now will not change. It will remain the same microphone until it is outdated. But you and I do change. You and I — I don't know you personally, but you and I — we both did things which surprised ourselves from time to time, so we don't really know. We don't really know what people might do.