Amos Oz

A Tale of Love and Darkness

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A Tale of Love and Darkness Summary

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A Tale of Love and Darkness is a 2002 memoir by Israeli journalist, novelist, and intellectual Amos Oz. Casting light on previously undisclosed aspects of Oz’s childhood, family life, and development as a thinker, it gives new context to his highly public and influential persona. Key events in the book include his mother’s suicide in 1952, his tension with his father, and his fears of writing transparently about himself. Oz’s memoir, which has been translated into more than twenty languages, has received critical acclaim for his candid and in-depth explication of his complex identity.

Oz begins A Tale of Love and Darkness in Jerusalem, where he grew up. His childhood was couched in the dissolution of the British Mandate for Palestine, the land that would become the State of Israel; the ambiguous status of his homeland affected his childhood, causing him to view the world as relatively unstable. Following the atrocities of World War II and the mass displacement of the surviving Jews, Oz’s home became Israel. In 1952, the love and darkness referred to in the novel’s title enveloped Oz’s life when Fania Mussman, his mother, started experiencing severe depression. That year, she committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills, traumatizing the young Oz. Oz dedicates his memoir to his memories of his mother and her boundless love. Half a century later, he still feels immeasurable pain.

After Oz’s mother died, he lived for a few more years with his father, Ariyeh Klausner, before moving to Kibbutz Hulda as a teenager. During these years, he met a number of notable Israeli intellectuals, artists, and politicians. These ranged from Shaul Tchernichovsky and Shmuel Yosef Agnon to the founding Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, today exalted as one of the greatest Jewish heroes. The poet Zelda also became his mentor and influenced his creative life considerably. Many of these connections he obtained through his uncle, the well-known historian Joseph Klausner.

Oz’s relationship to his father was contentious, especially after his mother’s death. He decided to change his name from Klausner to Oz, replacing his father’s Eastern European name with a Hebrew name. This choice symbolized a break from his father’s legacy. Oz explores many aspects of his family lineage. His parents both came from intellectual backgrounds. While his mother wanted to raise him in the traditions of their native Eastern Europe, his father insisted on giving him a more mainstream Western education. He forbade him from learning Russian, insisting that he learn Hebrew instead.

As he grew up, he became more aware of the relationships between politics, art, and scholarship. This caused him to feel appreciation for his uncle Joseph Klausner, whose passion for history was rooted in interdisciplinary thought and his deeply personal experience as a Jew during a period of unprecedented strife. The hardest challenge for Oz was to understand why his mother suffered so much and chose to leave him behind. Much of her family was killed in Russia before the survivors made it to British-Mandate Palestine. Though their new country and culture presumed itself a free land, his mother viewed it as anything but. Her mistrust of Russia and Europe lingered, and she saw no way to resist Western hegemony, not to mention restore the family and society that had been ripped away from her. At his memoir’s close, Oz emphasizes his gratitude for having had an intellectual childhood. Though the process of grief is endless, his education has equipped him with the tools for coping.