The best thing about Amos Oz's novel in verse is almost untranslatable: his Hebrew poetry is too dense for any European language to convey. The musicality and rhythm are impressive, and Oz's mastery of free indirect speech allows him to effect a continuous movement between his narrator and his characters. Free indirect speech plays a major role in modern Hebrew prose, partly because it is an aestheticised (civilised, liberal) means of choking off the Other's voice, leaving him or her the right to speak only on condition that the 'I' has the final say. Yet, when Oz speaks to himself, about himself, for the first time in his long public career, he sounds more sincere than he ever has in interview or public discussion, where he always sounds worse than phoney. 'Dear parents, dear Fania and Arie, it's night now and I'm in my room/in Arad, alone.' Then the direct address: 'Dad you stand up,/stooped. Mother you are sitting, erect and beautiful. Dad you appear to/insist, refusing to open the window. But you Mother won't give in./In the deep darkness you weep in vain in a whisper,/in whispers Dad you try to explain.' Why is this so persuasive? Is it that good? Do I find it moving because for years Oz's role as a Zionist icon, semi-official fund-raising ambassador to Ivy League and Oxbridge donors, seemed ridiculous? Every personal story was always in a way a story about 'us', the Zionist 'dream', or the Zionist nightmare.
LRB 20 September 2001 | PDF Download