Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel's Land of Oz

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel's Land of Oz

Article excerpt

WITH "To Know a Woman" Amos Oz joins the group of writers - Seamus Heaney in Ireland, John Coetzee in South Africa - who by confronting their self-divided countries, project a promise of healing.

Oz was born in Jerusalem, has fought in two wars for the Israeli Army, and lived for 30 years on a kibbutz before moving his family to the desert town of Arad. His father was a famous Zionist; he himself works for a negotiated peace with the Palestinians through the grass-roots organization called Peace Now.

"To Know a Woman" turns away from Israel's distress, or at least seems to. Like his 1988 novel "Black Box," it constitutes in his words, "an observation on the human condition formulated on the Israeli scene."

The "human condition" in question is that of a retired secret-service agent named Yoel Ravid. Like Oz, Ravid has dedicated himself to the welfare of the state of Israel. With the accidental death of his wife, Ravid retires, moves his family from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Despite the many ways he finds of perfecting his domestic situation, Ravid can't seem to settle down. He watches TV - with his daughter, the grandmas, and his neighbor, a woman from the United States who is, like him, seeking an answer with out quite knowing the question. Part of the novel's power derives from Oz's ability to invest the ordinary with mystery. We shadow Ravid, entering into an almost conspiratorial bond with the author. Through flashbacks, we learn of his life as a secret agent in the arms trade. The state of mind he maintained and can't seem to turn off involves a dimension of awareness, of suspicion, of continually living undercover. He begins to believe that the world is in code or many, unrelated codes. Eternal vigilance be comes an end in itself.

Uncannily, Oz reveals Ravid's detachment through domestic scenes remarkable for their warmth. …

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