An eclectic selection from the 40-year career of the popular but controversial Israeli novelist and essayist (How to Cure a Fanatic, 2006, etc.).
Arranged loosely by theme (“In the Promised Land,” “In an Autobiographical Vein,” etc.), these pieces illustrate the range of Oz’s talents and the focus of his interests. Born in Jerusalem in 1939, he left home at 14 to live in a kibbutz; of all social systems, he declares, it is “the least bad, the least unkind.” As a citizen of a nation perpetually at war, he acknowledges that violence is sometimes necessary—Dachau, he notes, was not liberated by peace demonstrators—but believes it ought to be a last resort rather than the first option. He condemns all sides in the Middle East conflict, thereby estranging himself from conservatives. His most wrenching essay terms Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon “a war of deceit and brainwashing.” Oz writes about the many changes he’s witnessed in Jerusalem, about the existence of evil in the world—he chides Freudians and just about all other social scientists for their failure to engage with it—and about the horrors of warfare. In the grimmest entry, an excerpt from his 1971 novel Crusade, a medieval Crusader orders the torture and murder of a Jew. Like most anthologies, this one offers mixed blessings. It will surely introduce this important modern writer to a broader audience, but some of the selections are confusing, especially those from his fiction. There are some striking sentences (common for Oz), but many readers will experience bewilderment as they struggle to glean the passages’ context within the novels.
Not every exposure is perfect, but this literary album contains striking snapshots by a gifted writer with a capacious heart and humane philosophy.