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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir


A Tale of Love and Darkness

Amos Oz

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To purchase A Tale of Love and Darkness

Title: A Tale of Love and Darkness
Author: Amos Oz
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 538 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: A Tale of Love and Darkness - US
A Tale of Love and Darkness - UK
A Tale of Love and Darkness - Canada
A Tale of Love and Darkness - India
Une histoire d'amour et de ténèbres - France
Eine Geschichte von Liebe und Finsternis - Deutschland
Una storia di amore e di tenebra - Italia
Una historia de amor y oscuridad - España
  • Hebrew title: סיפור על אהבה וחושך
  • Translated by Nicholas de Lange

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Our Assessment:

A : effective if roundabout memoir

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A+ 28/11/2004 Felicitas von Lovenberg
The Guardian A+ 11/9/2004 Linda Grant
The Independent . 3/9/2004 David Cesarani
Independent on Sunday . 26/9/2004 Justin Cartwright
The LA Times . 21/11/2004 Amy Wilentz
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 5/3/2005 Stefana Sabin
The New Republic . 27/12/2004 Robert Alter
New York . 13/12/2004 Boris Kachka
The NY Rev. of Books . 16/12/2004 Amos Elon
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/12/2004 John Leonard
The Spectator . 11/9/2004 Diana Hendry
The Telegraph A 5/9/2004 John Gross
The Telegraph . 5/9/2004 David Isaacson
TLS A 17/9/2004 Gabriel Josipovici
The Washington Post A 7/11/2004 Alberto Manguel
Die Welt . 11/9/2004 Batya Gur

  Review Consensus:

  All very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wer sich dem Bann des Landes und seiner Einwohner gerade nicht reisend aussetzen kann oder möchte, der sollte unbedingt dieses Buch aufschlagen. Denn von niemandem l&aum;ßt sich mehr lernen als von dem Schriftsteller Amos Oz -- über die schwierige Geburt des Staates Israel, über das Funktionieren und Versagen von Familien, über das, was Menschen zusammenhält, und die Abgründe, die sie trennen." - Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It is one of the funniest, most tragic and most touching books I have ever read. I am a great admirer of Oz as a novelist, of his spare, quiet portraits of intimacy between couples, but here, in this long book, he reveals a huge talent for the big narrative picture, for Dickensian character portraits and an expert fusion of history and personal life." - Linda Grant, The Guardian

  • "It is just as much a family chronicle illuminating Jewish history over the last century, an account of the waning British mandate for Palestine, and an intimate portrait of Jerusalem during the first, austere years of the State of Israel. Interleaved with recollections of his childhood, Oz reconstructs the world of his parents and grandparents, sometimes surrendering the narrative to them. But fans of his novels, with their lean prose, may find this hard going. The writing is dense, repetitive, almost liturgical." - David Cesarani, The Independent

  • "It is one of the most gripping, intense and moving autobiographies I have ever read, seamlessly translated by Nicholas de Lange." - Justin Cartwright, Independent on Sunday

  • "(I)n many ways the best book that he has ever written (.....) The narrative line of A Tale of Love and Darkness may seem relaxed, anecdotal, occasionally repetitive, and sometimes manifestly digressive, but the book is in fact a tautly imagined whole." - Robert Alter, The New Republic

  • "His memoir, in a translation that preserves the authorís gorgeous, discursive style and his love of wordplay, is a social history embedded within an autobiography. (...) (H)e richly rewards a patient audience over the bulk of this sophisticated and searing memorial." - Boris Kachka, New York

  • "This is a sad book, a tale of twisted lives and stunted hopes." - Amos Elon, The New York Review of Books

  • "A Tale of Love and Darkness also mourns the death of the socialist-Zionist dream of a just society and a strange new nationalism, predicated on research universities and string quartets, on comparative literature and experimental agriculture, that turned instead into an acid reflux of checkpoints, demolitions, transit camps, penal colonies and strategic hamlets." - John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It's a long book, and if it weren't as good as it is you could easily find yourself resenting its length. But you don't. It is moving, amusing, thought-provoking, brilliantly evocative. You're caught up in it from the start and swept along." - John Gross, The Telegraph

  • "His new memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, presents a more expansive canvas than any of his works of fiction." - David Isaacson, The Telegraph

  • "It is a universal human story, but it is also a very Jewish story, and in telling it Oz has written his best book so far. (...) I wish though that Oz had found a better title and not let his penchant for rhetoric triumph in the last paragraph; such a fine book deserved better." - Gabriel Josipovici, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It is impossible to give a full account of this book's riches." - Alberto Manguel, The Washington Post

  • "Die historischen, politischen und gesellschaftlichen Ereignisse, die Amos Oz in seinem neuen Buch darstellt, verleihen dem Werk die Qualität einer nationalen Biografie." - Batya Gur, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Amos Oz's memoir is a somewhat disjointed, rambling affair -- but in the best possible way. Oz proceeds only very generally chronologically, with many often long asides, jumping back or ahead. It is a family history, too, centred around him, then his parents (he was an only child), and then that greater family beyond -- with brief mentions of his own wife and children on occasion, too.
       Oz grew up in an incredibly bookish household, with two very bookish parents, and this reading-passion grabbed hold of him as well (and wouldn't let him go, no matter how hard he tried). The focus of the book is his childhood, leading up to the decisive moment in his life, when his mother committed suicide, Amos not yet even a teenager. That it happened is revealed early on, and mentioned repeatedly, but for most of the long book Oz only takes jabs at it: it's only at the very end that he can describe in any detail what happened.
       The suicide led also to his break with his father, as Oz moved to a kibbutz (and changed his name; he was born Amos Klausner), while his father soon remarried. There's some description of Oz kibbutz years, but it is the earlier years that Oz sees as the formative ones.
       Books were a central feature in the Klausner household, and Amos' early ambition was not to become a writer but rather a book: books, he saw, seemed to stand a much better chance of survival than people. Taking to reading early on, books always played a central role in Amos' life. Already as a six year-old, it was a great day for him when his father set aside some bookshelf space for his books:

     It was an initiation rite, a coming of age.: anyone whose books are standing upright is no longer a child, he is a man.
       Amos' childhood is typical of the hyper-literate: an only child, with no real friends, stuck in a gloomy urban setting with few opportunities for playing outside the home, -- and parents who constantly lost themselves in books as well (and who "had come to Jerusalem straight from the nineteenth century") -- so:
What surrounded me did not count. All that counted was made of words.
       There's lots of talking around him, but often little listening -- as well as many secrets. Amos' parents switch languages when there are things they don't want him to understand, and there is a good deal that passes in silence too. The significance of Amos' mother's suicide is truly made clear when he admits:
From the day of my mother's death to the day of my father's death, twenty years later, we did not talk about her once. Not a word. As if she had never lived. As if her life was just a censured page torn from a Soviet encyclopedia.
       This memoir rectifies that situation somewhat, a coming to terms by Oz with his parents. Loving but difficult, they gave him a great deal -- but also both let him down, his mother by her illness and suicide, his father by having the affair that he saw as contributing to his mother's problem, and by failing to be able to communicate and explain so much to his son, despite being such a word-person..
       His father was a polyglot scholar, but one who never achieved true academic success, his career complicated and overshadowed by a famous and important uncle. Amos seemed clearly destined to follow on this bookish path, but his adolescent rebellion was an attempt to go in a different direction. As he learned immediately, it wasn't that easy:
     I had tried to turn my back once and for all on the world of scholarship and debate from which I had come, and I had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire
       It turned out that even the kibbutz was filled with those who read a great deal and constantly debated and even wrote. And true to his roots, Oz couldn't let be either, inevitably becoming if not a scholar at least a writer.
       A Tale of Love and Darkness ambles along, wordy -- but necessarily so, gaining from its easy pace and bulk. Oz circles around topics, gets apparently sidetracked in detailed descriptions of small (and large) events, slowly opens up in a very introspective work that also tries to constantly relate to the world around him. From small memories -- the feel of a pebble in his mouth -- to his meetings with the famous (Agnon, Ben-Gurion), it's a mix of the everyday and the extraordinary. That constant shadow of all the dead relatives, and the lost world the generations before him had left behind, and the contrast to the new, often ugly world being shaped around him as he grew up is well presented
       This memoir is a hard book to get a grip on, so much more than a simple story of growing up, its qualities not easy to pinpoint (because so diverse and shifting), but it's captivating and engaging, a large book to lose oneself in and to return to. An impressive accomplishment, highly recommended.

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A Tale of Love and Darkness: Reviews: Amos Oz:
  • The complete review's Amos Oz page
Other books by Amos Oz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Amos Oz (עמוס עוז) was born in 1939.

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© 2005-2013 the complete review

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