"Sensuous prose and indelible imagery." — New York TimesThree stories in which history and imagination intertwine to re-create the world of Jerusalem during the last days of the British Mandate. Refugees drawn to Jerusalem in search of safety are confronted by activists relentlessly preparing for an uprising, oblivious to the risks. Meanwhile, a wife abandons her husband, and a dying man longs for his departed lover. Among these characters lives a boy named Uri, a friend and confidant of several conspirators who love and humor him as he weaves in and out of all three stories. The Hill of Evil Counsel is "as complex, vivid, and uncompromising as Jerusalem itself" (Nation).
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About the Author
AMOS OZ (1939 – 2018) was born in Jerusalem. He was the recipient of the Prix Femina, the Frankfurt Peace Prize, the Goethe Prize, the Primo Levi Prize, and the National Jewish Book Award, among other international honors. His work has been translated into forty-four languages.
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 Hill of Evil Counsel
It was dark. In the dark a woman said: I'm not afraid. A man replied: Oh, yes, you are. Another man said: Quiet.
Then dim lights came on at either side of the stage, the curtains parted, and all was quiet.
In May 1946, one year after the Allied victory, the Jewish Agency mounted a great celebration in the Edison Cinema. The walls were draped with the flags of Great Britain and the Zionist Movement. Vases of gladioli stood on the front of the stage. And a banner carried a quotation from the Bible: PEACE BE WITHIN THY WALLS AND PROSPERITY WITHIN THY PALACES.
The British Governor of Jerusalem strode up to the stage with a military gait and delivered a short address, in the course of which he cracked a subtle joke and read some lines of Byron. He was followed by the Zionist leader Moshe Shertok, who expressed in English and Hebrew the feelings of the Jewish community. In the corners of the auditorium, on either side of the stage, and by all the doors stood British soldiers wearing red berets and carrying submachine guns, to guard against the Underground. In the dress circle could be discerned the stiffly seated figure of the High Commissioner, Sir Alan Cunningham, with a small party of ladies and army officers. The ladies were holding opera glasses. A choir of pioneers in blue shirts sang some work songs. The songs were Russian, and, like the audience, they were wistful, rather than happy.
After the singing there was a film of Montgomery's tanks advancing across the Western Desert. The tanks raised columns of dust, crushed trenches and barbed-wire fences under their tracks, and stabbed the gray desert sky with their antennas. The auditorium was filled with the thunder of guns and the noise of marching songs.
In the middle of the film, there was a slight disturbance in the dress circle.
The film stopped suddenly. The lights came on. A voice was raised in a reproach or a curt command: Is there a doctor in the house?
In row 29, Father immediately got to his feet. He fastened the top button of his white shirt, whispered to Hillel to take care of Mother and keep her calm until things were sorted out, and, like a man plunging into a burning building at the risk of his life, turned and pushed his way to the staircase.
It transpired that Lady Bromley, the High Commissioner's sister-in-law, had been taken suddenly faint.
She was wearing a long white dress, and her face, too, was white. Father hurriedly introduced himself to the heads of the administration and proceeded to lay her limp arm across his shoulders. Like a gentle knight carrying a sleeping beauty, he helped Lady Bromley to the ladies' powder room. He seated her on an upholstered stool and handed her a glass of cold water. Three high-ranking British officials in evening dress hurried after him, stood in a semicircle around the patient, and supported her head as she took a single, painful sip. An elderly wing commander in uniform extracted her fan from her white evening bag, opened it carefully, and fanned her face.
Her Ladyship opened her eyes wearily. She stared almost ironically for a moment at all the men who were bustling around her. She was angular and wizened, and with her pursed lips, her pointed nose, and her permanent sardonic scowl, she looked like some thirsty bird.
"Well, doctor," the wing commander addressed Father in acid tones, "what do you think?"
Father hesitated, apologized twice, and suddenly made up his mind. He leaned over, and with his fine, sensitive fingers he undid the laces of the tight corset. Lady Bromley felt immediately better. Her shriveled hand, which resembled a chicken leg, straightened the hem of the dress. A crease appeared in the tightly closed mouth, a kind of cracked smile. She crossed her old legs, and her voice when she spoke was tinny and piercing.
"It's just the climate."
"Ma'am —" one of the officials began politely.
But Lady Bromley was no longer with him. She turned impatiently to Father:
"Young man, would you be kind enough to open the windows. Yes, that one, too. I need air. What a charming boy."
She addressed him in this way because, in his white sports shirt worn outside his khaki trousers, and with his biblical sandals, he looked to her more like a young servant than like a doctor. She had passed her youth among gardens, apes, and fountains in Bombay.
Father silently obeyed and opened all the windows.
The evening air of Jerusalem came in, and with it smells of cabbage, pine trees, and garbage.
He produced from his pocket a Health Service pillbox, carefully opened it, and handed Lady Bromley an aspirin. He did not know the English for "migraine," and so he said it in German. Doubtless his eyes at that moment shone with a sympathetic optimism behind his round spectacles.
After a few minutes, Lady Bromley asked to be taken back to her seat. One of the high-ranking officials took down Father's name and address and dryly thanked him. They smiled. There was a moment's hesitation. Suddenly the official held out his hand. They shook hands.
Father went back to his seat in row 29, between his wife and his son. He said: "It was nothing. It was just the climate."
The lights went out again. Once more General Montgomery pursued General Rommel mercilessly across the desert. Fire and dust clouds filled the screen. Rommel appeared in close-up, biting his lip, while in the background bagpipes skirled ecstatically.
Finally, the two anthems, British and Zionist, were played. The celebration was over. The people left the Edison Cinema and made for their homes. The evening twilight suddenly fell upon Jerusalem. In the distance, bald hills could be seen, with here and there a solitary tower. There was a sprinkling of stone huts on the faraway slopes. Shadows rustled in the side streets. The whole city was under the sway of a painful longing. Electric lights began to come on in the windows. There was a tense expectancy, as if at any moment a new sound might break out. But there were only the old sounds all around, a woman grumbling, a shutter squeaking, a lovesick cat screeching among the garbage cans in a backyard. And a very distant bell.
A handsome Bokharan barber in a white coat stood alone in the window of his empty shop and sang as he shaved himself. At that moment, a patrolling British jeep crossed the street, armed with a machine gun, brass bullets gleaming in its ammunition belt.
An old woman sat alone on a wooden stool beside the entrance of her basement shop. Her hands, wrinkled like a plasterer's, rested heavily on her knees. The last evening light caught her head, and her lips moved silently. From inside the basement, another woman spoke, in Yiddish: "It's perfectly simple: it'll end badly."
The old woman made no reply. She did not move.
Outside Ernpreis the pants presser's, Father was accosted by a pious beggar, who demanded and received a two-mil piece, furiously thanked God, cursed the Jewish Agency twice, and swept an alley cat out of the way with the tip of his stick.
From the east, the bells rang out continuously, high bells and deep bells, Russian bells, Anglican bells, Greek bells, Abyssinian, Latin, Armenian bells, as if a plague or a fire were devastating the city. But all the bells were doing was to call the darkness dark. And a light breeze blew from the northwest, perhaps from the sea; it stirred the tops of the pale trees that the City Council had planted up Malachi Street and ruffled the boy's curly hair. It was evening. An unseen bird gave a strange, persistent cry. Moss sprouted in the cracks in the stone walls. Rust spread over the old iron shutters and veranda railings. Jerusalem stood very quiet in the last of the light.
During the night, the boy woke up again with an attack of asthma. Father came in barefoot and sang him a soothing song:
Night is reigning in the skies,
Toward dawn, the jackals howled in the wadi below Tel Arza. Mitya the lodger began to cry out in his sleep on the other side of the wall: "Leave him alone! He's still alive! Y-a ny-e zna-yu." And he fell silent. Then cocks crew far away in the quarter of Sanhedriya and the Arab village of Shu'afat. At the first light, Father put on his khaki trousers, sandals, and a neatly pressed blue shirt with wide pockets, and set off for work. Mother went on sleeping until the women in the neighboring houses started beating their pillows and mattresses with all their might. Then she got up and in her silk dressing gown gave the boy a breakfast of a soft-boiled egg, Quaker Oats, and cocoa with the skin taken off; and she combed his curly hair.
"I can do it by myself. Stop it."
An old glazier passed down the street, shouting, "Perfes-sional glazing! America! Anything repaired!" And the children called after him, "Loonie!"
A few days later, Father was surprised to receive a gold-embossed invitation for two to the May Ball at the High Commissioner's palace on the Hill of Evil Counsel. On the back of the invitation, the secretary had written in English that Lady Bromley wished to convey to Dr. Kipnis her gratitude and profound apology, and that Sir Alan himself had expressed his appreciation.
Father was not a real doctor. He was actually a vet.
He had been born and brought up in Silesia. Hans Walter Landauer the famous geographer was his mother's uncle. Father had studied at the Veterinary Institute in Leipzig, specializing in tropical and subtropical cattle diseases.
In 2932, he had emigrated to Palestine with the intention of establishing a cattle farm in the mountains. He was a polite young man, quiet, principled, and full of hopes. In his dreams he saw himself wandering with a stick and a haversack among the hills of Galilee, clearing a patch of forest, and building with his own hands a wooden house beside a stream, with a sloping roof, an attic, and a cellar. He meant to get together some herdsmen and a herd of cattle, roaming by day to new pastures and by night sitting surrounded by books in a room full of hunting trophies, composing a monograph or a great poem.
For three months he stayed in a guesthouse in the small town of Yesud-Hama'alah, and he spent whole days wandering alone from morning to night in eastern Galilee looking for water buffalo in the Huleh Swamps. His body grew lean and bronzed, and his blue eyes, behind his round spectacles, looked like lakes in a snowy northern land. He learned to love the desolation of the distant mountains and the smell of summer: scorched thistles, goat dung, wood ash, the dusty east wind.
In the Arab village of Halsa, he met a wandering Bavarian ornithologist, a lonely and fervently evangelical man who be-lieved that the return of the Jews to their land heralded the salvation of the world, and was collecting material for a great work on the birds of the Holy Land. Together they roamed to the Marj- Ayun Valley, into the Mountains of Naphtali and the Huleh Swamps. Occasionally, in their wanderings, they reached the remote sources of the Jordan. Here they would sit all day in the shade of the lush vegetation, reciting together from memory their favorite Schiller poems and calling every bird and beast by its proper name.
When Father began to worry what would happen when he came to the end of the money that his mother's uncle the famous geographer had given him, he decided to go to Jerusalem to look into certain practical possibilities. Accordingly, he took his leave of the wandering Bavarian ornithologist, gathered his few possessions, and appeared one fine autumn morning in the office of Dr. Arthur Ruppin at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem.
Dr. Ruppin took at once to the quiet, bronzed boy who had come to him from Galilee. He also recalled that in his youth he had studied the tropical countries in Landauer's great Atlas. When Father began to describe the project of a cattle farm in the hills of Galilee, he took down some hasty notes. Father concluded with these words:
"It is a difficult plan to put into practice, but I believe it is not impossible."
Dr. Ruppin smiled sadly;
"Not impossible, but difficult to put into practice. Very difficult!"
And he proceeded to point out one or two awkward facts.
He persuaded Father to postpone the realization of his plan for the time being, and meanwhile to invest his money in the acquisition of a young orange grove near the settlement of Nes Tsiyona, and also to buy without delay a small house in the new suburb of Tel Arza, which was being built to the north of Jerusalem.
Father did not argue.
Within a few days, Dr. Ruppin had had Father appointed as a traveling government veterinary officer and had even invited him for coffee in his house in Rehavia.
For several years, Father would get up before sunrise and travel on sooty buses up to Bethlehem and Ramallah, down to Jericho, out to Lydda, to supervise the villagers' cattle on behalf of the government.
The orange grove near the settlement of Nes Tsiyona began to yield a modest income, which he deposited, along with part of his government salary, in the Anglo-Palestine Bank. He furnished his small house in Tel Arza with a bed, a desk, a wardrobe, and bookshelves. Above his desk he hung a large picture of his mother's uncle the famous geographer. Hans Walter Landauer looked down on Father with an expression of skepticism and mild surprise, particularly in the evenings.
As he traveled around the villages, Father collected rare thistles. He also gathered some fossils and pieces of ancient pottery. He arranged them all with great care. And he waited.
Meanwhile, silence cut him of? from his mother and sisters in Silesia.
As the years went by, Father learned to speak a little Arabic. He also learned loneliness. He put off composing his great poem. Every day he learned something new about the land and its inhabitants, and occasionally even about himself. He still saw in his dreams the cattle farm in Galilee, although the cellar and attic now seemed to him unnecessary, perhaps even childish. One evening, he even said aloud to his granduncle's pic toe:
"We'll see. All in good time. I'm just as determined as you are. You may laugh, but I don't care. Laugh as much as you like."
At night, by the light of his desk lamp, Father kept a journal in which he recorded his fears for his mother and sisters, the oppressiveness of the dry desert wind, certain peculiarities of some of his acquaintances, and the flavor of his travels among Godforsaken villages. He set down in carefully chosen words various professional lessons he had learned in the course of his work. He committed to writing some optimistic reflections about the progress of the Jewish community in various spheres. He even formulated, after several revisions, a few arguments for and against loneliness, and an embarrassed hope for a love that might come to him, too, one day. Then he carefully tore out the page and ripped it into tiny pieces. He also published, in the weekly The Young Worker, an article in favor of drinking goats' milk.
Sometimes, in the evening, he would go to Dr. Ruppin's home in Rehavia, where he was received with coffee and cream cakes. Or else he would visit his fellow townsman the elderly Professor Julius Wertheimer, who also lived in Rehavia, not far from Dr. Ruppin. Occasionally there was a distant sound of faint, persistent piano music, like the supplications of a desperate pride. Every summer the rocks on the hillside roasted, and every winter Jerusalem was ringed with fog. Refugees and pioneers continued to arrive from various foreign parts, filling the city with sadness and bewilderment. Father bought books from the refugees, some of them musty books with leather bindings and gold tooling, and from time to time he exchanged books with Dr. Ruppin or with the elderly Professor Julius Wertheimer, who was in the habit of greeting him with a hurried, embarrassed hug.
The Arabs in the villages sometimes gave him cold pomegranate juice to drink. Occasionally they would kiss his hand. He learned to drink water from an upraised pitcher without letting the pitcher touch his lips. Once a woman directed a dark, smoldering glance at him from some way off, and he trembled all over and hurriedly looked away.
He wrote in his journal:
"I have been living in Jerusalem for three years, and I continue to yearn for it as though I were still a student in Leipzig. Surely there is paradox here. And in general," Father continued thoughtfully and rather vaguely, "in general there ate all sorts of contradictions. Yesterday morning, in Lifta, I was obliged to put down a fine, healthy horse because some youngsters had blinded it in the night with a nail. Cruelty for its own sake seems to me to be something sordid and thoroughly unnecessary. The same evening, in Kibbutz Kiryat 'Anavim, the pioneers played a Bach suite on the phonograph, which aroused in me profound feelings of pity for the pioneers, for the horse, for Bach, for myself. I almost cried. Tomorrow is the King's birthday, and all the workers in the department are to receive a special bonus. There are all sorts of contradictions. And the climate is not kind, either."
Excerpted from "The Hill of Evil Counsel"
Copyright © 1976 Amos Oz and Am Oved Publishers Ltd..
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
Table of Contents,
The Hill of Evil Counsel,
About the Author,