BLACK BOX by Amos Oz
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Perhaps no serious national prose is more inherently social--entwined, even baled--than Israeli fiction; and Oz has consistently been one of its great wrappers. Never more than in this novel, his talents move toward the inextricabilities of societal and personal lives--here the stow is of an Israeli professor (now world-famous, living in Chicago, fabulously wealthy but also dying of cancer), his ex-wife back in Jerusalem, her new husband (a North African/Parisian Jew, a teacher, a religious right-winger in-volved in buying up the West Bank for Jewish settlements), and the professor's hippie son (awash on the disasters of his life but somehow floating better than all the others combined). The novel is expressionist-epistolary á la Herzog, but with every main character (and one extraordinary secondary character, the professor's lawyer) having his or her say to each other in letter or cable; the metaphorical title refers to the recordings left after an air-crash. It's a bleak and disastrous story--one repeatedly enlivened by both the richness and knowledge of Oz's prose (beautifully rendered by De Lange with help from Oz) and the sharp turns of the story. Each letter makes its writer a character of sympathy and identification--until the next character's reply changes your mind for you. Alex the brilliant professor--haughty, withering--goes to his cancer death in a blaze of charity; liana the wife, along with the pressures of her unhappiness, is a kind of catalyst; the second husband, Michel, is a zealot but also a foundation; and the messed-up son Boaz is both a casualty and Zen exemplar. Novels in the form of letters have to get past the clunky device of plot exposition, which Oz does no worse but also no better than anyone else; yet it's the quicksilver changeableness of human self-definition that makes the book irresistible--and maybe Oz's best.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1988
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich