Winner, National Jewish Book Award
“[A] gorgeous, rueful collection . . . that lays bare the deepest human longings.” — Chicago Tribune
In Between Friends, Amos Oz returns to the kibbutz of the late 1950s, the time and place where his writing began. These eight interconnected stories, set in the fictitious Kibbutz Yekhat, draw masterly profiles of idealistic men and women enduring personal hardships in the shadow of one of the greatest collective dreams of the twentieth century. A devoted father who fails to challenge his daughter’s lover, an old friend, a man his own age; an elderly gardener who carries on his shoulders the sorrows of the world; a woman writing perversely poignant letters to her husband’s mistress. Each of these stories is a luminous human and literary study; together they offer an eloquent portrait of an idea, and of a charged and fascinating epoch. Amos Oz at home. And at his best.
“Lucid and heartbreaking.” — Guardian (UK)
“All Israeli life is here, rendered in loving detail.” — Mail on Sunday (UK)
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
AMOS OZ is the internationally acclaimed author of over twenty books, including his best-selling memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness. He has received several international awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize, the Prix Méditerranée Étranger, the Israel Prize, and the Frankfurt Peace Prize.
Date of Birth:May 4, 1939
Date of Death:December 28, 2018
Place of Birth:Jerusalem
Place of Death:Tel Aviv, Israel
Read an Excerpt
The King of Norway
On our Kibbutz, Kibbutz Yekhat, there lived a man, Zvi Provizor, a short fifty-five-year-old bachelor who had a habit of blinking. He loved to transmit bad news: earthquakes, plane crashes, buildings collapsing on their occupants, fires, and floods. He read the papers and listened to all the news broadcasts early in the morning, so that he could catch us at the entrance to the dining hall and astound us with the story of two hundred and fifty coal miners hopelessly trapped somewhere in China or six hundred passengers drowned when a ferry capsized in a storm in the Caribbean. He also used to memorize obituaries. Always first to know which famous people had died, he would inform the entire kibbutz. One morning he stopped me on the path in front of the clinic.
"Ever hear of a writer named Wislavsky?"
"Sorry to hear it."
"Writers die, too."
And another time he caught me when I was working the dining-hall shift: "I saw in the obituaries that your grandfather died."
"And three years ago, your other grandfather died."
"So this one was the last."
Zvi Provizor was the kibbutz gardener. He would go out at five every morning, reposition the sprinklers, till the soil in the flower beds, plant and prune and water, mow lawns with the noisy mower, spray against aphids, and spread organic and chemical fertilizer. Attached to his belt was a small transistor radio that provided him with a constant infusion of disastrous news: "Did you hear? A huge massacre in Angola."
Or: "The Minister of Religious Affairs died. They just announced it ten minutes ago."
The other kibbutz members avoided him. In the dining hall, they rarely joined him at his table. On summer evenings he would sit alone on the green bench at the foot of the large lawn in front of the dining hall and watch the children playing on the grass. The breeze billowed out his shirt, drying his sweat. A hot summer moon shone red as it rose above the tall cypress trees. One evening Zvi Provizor greeted a woman named Luna Blank who was sitting alone on an adjacent bench.
"Did you hear?" he said to her sadly. "In Spain an orphanage burned down and eighty orphans died of smoke inhalation."
Luna, a forty-five-year-old widowed teacher, wiped the sweat from her brow with a handkerchief and said, "That's horrible."
"Only three survivors were rescued," Zvi said, "and they're in critical condition."
We all respected his dedication to his work: never, in the twenty-two years that he'd lived on the kibbutz, had a single sick day been noted on his time sheet. Thanks to him, the kibbutz bloomed. Every unused strip of land was planted with seasonal flowers. Here and there he had put in rock gardens where he planted varieties of cactus. He had erected wooden trellises for grapevines. In front of the dining hall he installed a burbling fountain filled with goldfish and aquatic plants. He had a good aesthetic sense and everyone appreciated it.
But behind his back we called him the Angel of Death and gossiped about him: he didn't have and had never had an interest in women, we would say. Or in men, for that matter. One young fellow, Roni Shindlin, did a marvelous imitation of Zvi that made us roar with laughter. In the afternoon, when the kibbutz members sat on their porches and drank coffee or played with their children on the small lawns in front of their houses, Zvi Provizor would go to the clubhouse to read the newspapers in the company of five or six solitary men like him, avid readers and debaters, aging bachelors, widowers, or divorcés.
From his corner, Reuvkeh Roth, a small bald man with large batlike ears, would mumble that retaliatory raids only escalated the violence because revenge begets revenge and retaliation begets retaliation.
The others would immediately attack him: "What are you talking about? We can't let them get away with it!" "Restraint and appeasement only make the Arabs more brazen."
Zvi Provizor would blink and say, "In the end, it'll turn into a war. It can only cause a terrible war."
And Emanuel Glozman, the stutterer, would say excitedly, "W-w-war. Very g-g-good. We'll w-w-win and t-t-take their l-l-land all the w-w-way to the J-J-Jordan."
Reuvkeh Roth would think out loud: "Ben Gurion is a great chess player. He always sees five moves ahead. Except that everything with him is always by force."
On that subject, Zvi Provizor would prophesy gloomily, "If we lose, the Arabs will come and wipe us out. If we win, the Russians will come and blow us up."
Emanuel Glozman would plead, "E-e-enough, friends, qu-qu-quiet. Let m-m-me read the p-p-papers in p-p-peace."
And Zvi, after a few moments' silence, would say, "Did you hear? It says here that the King of Norway has liver cancer. And the head of our regional council has cancer, too."
Whenever Roni Shindlin, the comedian, saw Zvi at the shoemaker's or by the clothing storeroom, he would ask him mockingly, "So, Angel of Death, what plane crashed today?"
Zvi Provizor and Luna Blank fell into a routine: they talked every evening. He would sit on the righthand edge of the left bench at the foot of the lawn and she would sit near him, on the left-hand edge of the right bench. He would blink as he spoke to her and she, wearing a pretty sleeveless sundress, would crumple her handkerchief between her fingers. Praising the kibbutz gardens, the fruit of his labor, she said that thanks to him, they lived on a green meadow, in the shade of blossoming orchards, among blooming flower beds. She had a weakness for fancy words. A third-grade teacher, she made excellent, delicate pencil drawings that hung on the walls of our small apartments. Her face was round and smiling and her eyelashes long, though her neck was slightly wrinkled and she had thin legs and almost no breasts. Her husband had been killed several years earlier while doing reserve duty on the Gaza border and they'd had no children. The kibbutz members considered her an admirable figure, a woman who had overcome tragedy and poured her entire soul into teaching. Zvi talked to her about the different species of roses and she nodded eagerly, as if agreeing with every word. Then he gave her a detailed description of the horrors of the locust plague that was devastating Sudan.
Luna said, "You're a very sensitive person."
Zvi blinked quickly and said, "Sudan doesn't have much greenery as it is."
Luna said, "Why do you take all the sorrows of the world on your shoulders?"
And Zvi replied, "Closing your eyes to the cruelty of life is, in my opinion, both stupid and sinful. There's very little we can do about it. So we have to at least acknowledge it."
One summer evening she invited Zvi to her place for coffee. He came in his after-work clothes, long khaki trousers and a short-sleeved light-blue shirt. His radio was still attached to his belt, and at eight o'clock he excused himself and listened to the news headlines. Hanging on the walls of Luna Blank's room were several of her pencil drawings in simple frames, sketches of dreamy young girls and landscapes, rocky hills and olive trees. Beneath the window was a double bed with embroidered Oriental pillows. The row of books on the white bookshelf was arranged by height, from tall art books of paintings by Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Gauguin, to shorter volumes of the Cassuto Bible, and, finally, a series of squat little novels published by Hasifria Le'Am. In the middle of the room was a round coffee table with two plain armchairs on either side. The table was covered with an embroidered tablecloth and set for two with coffee cups and plates for biscuits.
Zvi Provizor said, "Your room is very nice," and added, "Clean. Neat."
Embarrassed, Luna Blank said, "Thank you. I'm glad."
But there was no gladness in her voice, only an awkward tension.
Then they drank coffee and ate biscuits and spoke of ornamental trees and fruit trees, of the discipline problems at school now that everything was permitted, of bird migration.
Zvi said, "I read in the newspaper that in Hiroshima, ten years after the bomb, there were still no birds."
Luna told him again, "You take all the sorrows of the world on your shoulders."
She also said, "The day before yesterday, I saw a hoopoe on a low branch outside my window."
And so they began to meet regularly in the early-evening hours, on a bench in the garden, in the shade of a dense bougainvillea, or over coffee in Luna's room. Zvi would come home from work at four, shower, comb his hair in front of the mirror, change into his ironed khaki trousers and light-blue shirt, and go to join her. Sometimes he would bring seedlings of annuals for her to plant in her small garden. Once he brought her a volume of Yaakov Fichman's poems. She gave him poppy-seed biscuits in a bag, and a pencil drawing of two cypress trees and a bench. But at eight or eight thirty they would say good night and Zvi would return to his monastic room where the smell of bachelordom hung heavily in the air.
In the dining hall Roni Shindlin said that the Angel of Death had spread its wings over the Black Widow. In the clubhouse, later, Reuvkeh Roth teased Zvi affectionately, "So the hand has found a glove, eh?"
But Zvi and Luna were not upset by the gossip and the sarcasm. The connection between them seemed to grow stronger every day. He told her that in his free time, he was translating a novel by the Polish writer Iwaszkiewicz into Hebrew. The book was full of gentleness and suffering. Iwaszkiewicz believed that the human condition was absurd but touching. Luna listened, her head slightly tilted, lips parted, pouring hot coffee into his cup, as if the coffee were a kind of compensation for Iwaszkiewicz's sorrow as well as a consolation for his own. She felt that their relationship was precious and she appreciated the way it filled her days, which until then had been so flat and monotonous. One night, she dreamed that they were on a horse together, her breasts pressed against his back and her arms around his waist, riding along a valley between high hills where a frothing river twisted and turned. She decided not to tell Zvi about this dream, even though she had described other dreams to him in detail. Zvi, for his part, blinked and told her that as a child in the Polish town of Yanov, he had dreamed of being a student. Instead, he had been drawn into the newly formed chalutz youth movement and had given up his plans to study. Even so, he had never stopped learning. Carefully gathering the crumbs from the tablecloth, Luna said, "You must have been a very shy young man. You're still a bit shy now."
Zvi said, "You don't really know me."
Luna said, "Tell me. I'm listening."
And Zvi said, "Tonight I heard on the radio that a volcano erupted in Chile. Four villages were totally destroyed by the lava flow. Most of the people didn't stand a chance."
One evening, as he regaled her with an affecting description of the famine in Somalia, compassion for him so overwhelmed her that she suddenly took his hand and held it to her breast. Zvi trembled and pulled his hand back quickly, with a gesture that was almost violent. His eyes blinked frantically. Never in his adult life had he touched another person intentionally, and he went rigid whenever he was touched. He loved the feel of loose earth and the softness of young stems, but the touch of others, men or women, caused his entire body to stiffen and contract as if he'd been burned. He always tried to avoid handshakes, pats on the back, or the accidental rubbing of elbows at the table in the dining hall. A short time later, he stood up and left.
He didn't go to see Luna the next day. He had begun to feel that their relationship was heading toward a disastrous place where he did not want to go, a place that repulsed him. Luna, with her usual sensitivity, guessed that she had somehow offended him. She decided to apologize, though she didn't know what for. Had she asked a question she shouldn't have asked? Or had she perhaps failed to grasp some important meaning concealed in his words?
Two days later, when he wasn't in his room, she slipped a note under his door: I'm sorry if I upset you. Can we talk?
Zvi responded with a note of his own: It would be better if we didn't. It would only end badly.
Still, she waited for him after supper at the foot of the margosa tree near the dining-hall door and said shyly, "Tell me what I did."
"So why are you avoiding me?"
"Try to understand. It's ... pointless."
They never met on purpose again, and if they happened to pass each other on a path or in the small storeroom, they would exchange nods, hesitate for a moment, then go on their way.
At lunch, Roni Shindlin told his tablemates that the Angel of Death had cut his honeymoon short, and from now on, they were all in danger again. In fact, that very afternoon, Zvi informed the bachelors in the clubhouse that a large bridge in Turkey had collapsed, and at the height of rush hour to boot.
Two or three months later, we noticed that Luna Blank had stopped coming to the classical-music group and had even been absent from several teachers' meetings. She dyed her hair a coppery red and began to wear bright lipstick. Occasionally she skipped supper. On the Sukkoth holiday, she stayed in the city for a few days and came back wearing a dress we thought was a bit daring, with a long slit up the side. In early autumn, we saw her a few times, sitting on the bench by the large lawn with the basketball coach, a man ten years younger than she was, who came to the kibbutz twice a week. Roni Shindlin said that she was probably learning to dribble at night. Two or three weeks later, she dropped the basketball coach and was seen in the company of the commander of the kibbutz unit of the Fighting Pioneer Youth, a man of twenty-two. There was no way that this could be ignored, and the Education Committee met discreetly to discuss the professional implications.
Every evening, Zvi Provizor would sit alone, utterly still, on the bench next to the fountain he had installed with his own hands and watch the children playing on the lawn. If you passed by and said good evening, he would return the greeting and tell you about the floods in southeastern China.
Late that autumn, without warning and without permission from the kibbutz secretariat, Luna Blank left for America to visit her sister, who had sent her a plane ticket. She was seen one morning at the bus stop wearing the daring dress and a bright-colored scarf, teetering in high heels, and lugging a large suitcase. "Already dressed for Hollywood," Roni Shindlin said. "The Black Widow is fleeing the Angel of Death." The secretariat decided to suspend her membership in the kibbutz, pending further investigation.
Meanwhile, Luna Blank's room remained locked and dark, even though there was a housing shortage and some members of the Housing Committee had their eye on it. Five or six ordinary houseplants — philodendrons, geraniums, cacti — had been left on the small porch and Zvi Provizor would occasionally go by to water and tend to them.
Then came winter. Low clouds lay above the ornamental trees. Thick mud lined the fields and orchards, and the fruit pickers and field hands went to work in the factory. Gray rain fell endlessly. At night, the gutters rattled noisily and a cold wind seeped through cracks in the shutters. Zvi Provizor sat up every night listening to all the news broadcasts, and in the breaks between them, he'd bend over his table and by the light of his gooseneck lamp translate into Hebrew a few lines of Iwaszkiewicz's anguish-filled novel. The pencil drawing that Luna had given him — two cypress trees and a bench — hung above his bed. The trees looked melancholy; the bench was empty. At ten thirty he'd wrap something around himself and go out on the porch to look at the low-lying clouds and the deserted concrete paths, their wet surface gleaming in the yellow glow of the streetlight. If there was a pause between downpours, he would take a brief nocturnal stroll to see how the plants on Luna's porch were doing. Fallen leaves had already covered the step, and Zvi thought that he could detect the light scent of soap or shampoo drifting from inside the locked room. He would wander along the empty paths for a while, rain dripping from the tree branches onto his uncovered head, then go back to his room and listen in darkness, his open eyes blinking, to the final news reports of the day. Early one morning, when everything was still blanketed in wet, frozen darkness, he stopped a dairy worker on his way to milk the cows and informed him sadly:
"Did you hear? The King of Norway died last night. Cancer. Of the liver."
Excerpted from "Between Friends"
Copyright © 2012 Amos Oz.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The King of Norway,
Sample Chapter from JUDAS,
Buy the Book,
Read More from Amos Oz,
About the Author,
Connect with HMH,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent writing style but almost all the short stories are bleak, and sad. I find it hard to believe that life in the kibbutz in the 1950's was really that depressing. I hated the detailed description of a puppy being run over by a bus and suffering an agonizing, painful death. Really, that was totally unnecessary!