“Scenes from Village Life is like a symphony, its movements more impressive together than in isolation. There is, in each story, a particular chord or strain; but taken together, these chords rise and reverberate, evoking an unease so strong it’s almost a taste in the mouth . . . Scenes from Village Life is a brief collection, but its brevity is a testament to its force. You will not soon forget it.”—New York Times Book Review
Strange things are happening in Tel Ilan, a century-old pioneer village. A disgruntled retired politician complains to his daughter that he hears the sound of digging at night. Could it be their tenant, that young Arab? But then the young Arab hears the digging sounds too. And where has the mayor’s wife gone, vanished without a trace, her note saying “Don’t worry about me”?
Around the village, the veneer of new wealth—gourmet restaurants, art galleries, a winery—barely conceals the scars of war and of past generations: disused air-raid shelters, rusting farm tools, and trucks left wherever they stopped. Scenes From Village Life is a memorable novel in stories by the inimitable Amos Oz: a brilliant, unsettling glimpse of what goes on beneath the surface of everyday life.
Translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange
“Finely wrought . . . Oz writes characterizations that are subtle but surgically precise, rendering this work a powerfully understated treatment of an uneasy Israeli conscience." —Publishers Weekly, starred
“Informed by everything, weighed down by nothing, this is an exquisite work of art.”—The Scotsman
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.44(d)|
About the Author
Born in Jerusalem in 1939, Amos Oz is the author of numerous works of fiction and essays. His international awards include the Prix Femina, the Israel Prize, and the Frankfurt Peace Prize, and his books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in Israel.
Nicholas de Lange is a professor at the University of Cambridge and a renowned translator. He has translated Amos Oz’s work since the 1960s.
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 stranger was not quite a stranger. Something in his appearance repelled and yet fascinated Arieh Zelnik from first glance, if it really was the first glance: he felt he remembered that face, the arms that came down nearly to the knees, but vaguely, as though from a lifetime ago.
The man parked his car right in front of the gate. It was a dusty, beige car, with a motley patchwork of stickers on the rear window and even on the side windows: a varied collection of declarations, warnings, slogans and exclamation marks. He locked the car, rattling each door vigorously to make sure they were all properly shut. Then he patted the hood lightly once or twice, as though the car were an old horse that you tethered to the gatepost and patted affectionately to let him know he wouldn’t have long to wait. Then the man pushed the gate open and strode toward the vine-shaded front veranda. He moved in a jerky, almost painful way, as if walking on hot sand.
From his swing seat in a corner of the veranda Arieh Zelnik could watch without being seen. He observed the uninvited guest from the moment he parked his car. But try as he might, he could not remember where or when he had come across him before. Was it on a foreign trip? In the army? At work? At university? Or even at school? The man’s face had a sly, jubilant expression, as if he had just pulled off a practical joke at someone else’s expense. Somewhere behind or beneath the stranger’s features there lurked the elusive suggestion of a familiar, disturbing face: was it someone who once harmed you, or someone to whom you yourself once did some forgotten wrong?
Like a dream of which nine-tenths had vanished and only the tail was still visible.
Arieh Zelnik decided not to get up to greet the newcomer but to wait for him here, on his swing seat on the front veranda.
As the stranger hurriedly bounced and wound his way along the path that led from the gate to the veranda steps, his little eyes darted this way and that as though he were afraid of being discovered too soon, or of being attacked by some ferocious dog that might suddenly leap out at him from the spiny bougainvillea bushes growing on either side of the path.
The thinning flaxen hair, the turkey-wattle neck, the watery, inquisitively darting eyes, the dangling chimpanzee arms, all evoked a certain vague unease.
From his concealed vantage point in the shade of a creeping vine, Arieh Zelnik noted that the man was large-framed but slightly flabby, as if he had just recovered from a serious illness, suggesting that he had been heavily built until quite recently, when he had begun to collapse inward and shrink inside his skin. Even his grubby beige summer jacket with its bulging pockets seemed too big for him, and hung loosely from his shoulders.
Though it was late summer and the path was dry, the stranger paused to wipe his feet carefully on the mat at the bottom of the steps, then inspected the sole of each shoe in turn. Only once he was satisfied did he go up the steps and try the mesh screen door at the top. After tapping on it politely several times without receiving any response he finally looked around and saw the householder planted calmly on his swing seat, surrounded by large flowerpots and ferns in planters, in a corner of the veranda, in the shade of the arbor.
The visitor smiled broadly and seemed about to bow; he cleared his throat and declared:
“You’ve got a beautiful place here, Mr. Zelkin! Stunning! It’s a little bit of Provence in the State of Israel! Better than Provence—Tuscany! And the view! The woods! The vines! Tel Ilan is simply the loveliest village in this entire Levantine state. Very pretty! Good morning, Mr. Zelkin. I hope I’m not disturbing you, by any chance?”
Arieh Zelnik returned the greeting drily, pointed out that his name was Zelnik, not Zelkin, and said that he was unfortunately not in the habit of buying anything from door-to-door salesmen.
“Quite right, too!” exclaimed the other, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. “How can we tell if someone is a bona fide salesman or a con man? Or, heaven forbid, a criminal who is casing the joint for some gang of burglars? But as it happens, Mr. Zelnik, I am not a salesman. I am Maftsir!”
“Maftsir. Wolff Maftsir. From the law firm Lotem and Pruzhinin. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Zelnik. I have come, sir, on a matter, how should we put it, or perhaps instead of trying to describe it, we should come straight to the point. Do you mind if I sit down? It’s a rather personal affair. Not my own personal affair, heaven forbid—if it were, I would never dream of bursting in on you like this without prior notice. Although, in fact, we did try, we certainly did, we tried several times, but your telephone number is unlisted and our letters went unanswered. Which is why we decided to try our luck with an unannounced visit, and we are very sorry for the intrusion. This is definitely not our usual practice, to intrude on the privacy of others, especially when they happen to reside in the most beautiful spot in the whole country. One way or another, as we have already remarked, this is on no account just our own personal business. No, no. By no means. In fact, quite the opposite: it concerns, how can we put it tactfully, it concerns your own personal affairs, sir. Your own personal affairs, not just ours. To be more precise, it relates to your family. Or perhaps rather to your family in a general sense, and more specifically to one particular member of your family. Would you object to us sitting and chatting for a few minutes? I promise you I’ll do my best to ensure that the whole matter does not take up more than ten minutes of your time. Although, in fact, it’s entirely up to you, Mr. Zelkin.”
“Zelnik,” Arieh said.
And then he said, “Sit down.”
“Not here, over there,” he added.
Because the fat man, or the formerly fat man, had first settled himself on the double swing seat, right next to his host, thigh to thigh. A cloud of thick smells clung to his body, smells of digestion, socks, talcum powder and armpits. A faint odor of pungent after-shave overlay the blend. Arieh Zelnik was suddenly reminded of his father, who had also covered his body odor with the pungent aroma of after-shave.
As soon as he was told to move, the visitor rose, swaying slightly, his simian arms holding his knees, apologized and deposited his posterior, garbed in trousers that were too big for him, at the indicated spot, on a wooden bench across the garden table. It was a rustic bench, made of roughly planed planks rather like railway ties. It was important to Arieh that his sick mother should not catch sight of this visitor, not even of his back, not even of his silhouette outlined against the arbor, which was why he had seated him in a place that was not visible from the window. As for his unctuous, cantorial voice, her deafness would protect her from that.
Table of Contents
Heirs • 1
Relations • 19
Digging • 39
Lost • 83
Waiting • 109
Strangers • 129
Singing • 153
In a faraway place at another time • 175
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This collection of short stories by Amos Oz is set in an apparently fictional historical village in Israel that has been populated by Jews for roughly a century. The characters in the first seven stories all know each other, and those who are the center of one story will often appear in a minor role in one or more other ones. The stories are about the lives of the characters within their families and community, and focus on the loneliness and barely hidden frustration and despair that plague each of them. Each character is in a search for something, often without knowing what it is they are looking for or why, and the stories are dreamlike, haunting, and often mildly uncomfortable and menacing. In the longest story, "Digging", a middle-aged widow lives with her cantakerous and difficult elderly widowed father, along with a shy and introspective Arab university student who lives in a shed on their land in exchange for performing household chores. The elderly man is awakened each night by the sound of digging underneath the house, yet no one else seems to hear it. Other stories feature a single doctor who expectantly waits for her ill nephew; a divorced woman pursued by a lovestruck and lonely teenager; an older man who lives in peace with his infirm mother at the edge of the village, until an intrusive stranger who claims to be a relative urges him to sell his mother's property; and the town's mayor, who receives a mysterious note from his wife. Oz does not provide the reader or his characters with straightforward resolutions to their dilemmas or searches, which made the stories that much more memorable and powerful. The last story is quite unlike the others, as it is set in a different place at another time (past? present?), in a town whose structures are decaying and whose citizens are dying despite the best efforts of the official who is charged with their welfare.The stories are wonderfully written, with simple yet evocative language, and I slowly savored each passage, such as this one from the elderly man in "Digging", as the Arab student plays a haunting Russian melody on his harmonica on one summer evening:'That's a lovely tune,' the old man said. 'Heart-rending. It reminds us of a time when there was still some fleeting affection between people. There's no point in playing tunes like that today: they are an anachronism, because nobody cares any more. That's all over. Now our hearts are blocked. All feelings are dead. Nobody turns to anyone else except from self-interested motives. What is left? Maybe only this melancholy tune, as a kind of reminder of the destruction of our hearts.'[Scenes from Village Life] is an unforgettable book, which is one of my favorite reads of the year, and one I look forward to returning to in the near future.
Amos Oz is a great writer. He writes in Hebrew, and his books are translated into English. He is considered one of the top three Israeli writers. This book, which will be published on October 20, 2011 - I received as an advance reading copy - contains eight brilliant short, perceptive, thought-provoking, and somewhat disturbing vignettes, about sometimes surreal citizens of an Israeli village. For example, in the first story Heirs, an unusual stranger, outlandishly dressed with bizarre behavior, arrives at the home of a troubled man and tells him that he would like to buy his very old mother¿s house, the house in which he and his mother are living. The son is conflicted. He wants and doesn¿t want to sell. He tells the man to leave. But the man ignores the order, enters the house, goes to the silent old woman¿s bedroom, and gets into bed with her, strokes and kisses her, and mummers softly, ¿Everything is going to be all right, dear lady. It¿s going to be lovely. We¿ll take care of everything.¿ The son also undresses and gets into the bed with his quite old mother. Readers will ask: What is the significance of the bed scene? Why is the tale called Heirs in the plural when the old woman only has a single son? Similarly, in the seventh story Singing a man of the village leaves the thirty-some villagers who came to a home to sing together. This is the home of a man and woman whose son committed suicide under their bed, and lay there dead for a day undiscovered. The husband hasn¿t gotten over the event, and sits on the side brooding while the others are singing. The visitor also suffers despair. He wanders upstairs, confused, without understanding why he is doing so, enters a bedroom, and thinks: ¿I had no further reason to turn my back on despair. So I got down on my hands and knees at the foot of the double bed and, rolling back the bedspread, tried to grope with the pale beam of my flashlight into the dark space underneath.¿ Readers will enjoy reading the artistic descriptions of the events and wondering what is the significance of this man¿s act.In the third vignette Digging we read about the interrelations of an old almost senile, very dissatisfied, fault-finding father; his good-looking, well-groomed daughter, a widow in her mid-forties, a teacher of literature in the village, who patiently cares for her father; and a young Arab student who is writing about relationships, who she allows to live in a hut on her property in exchange for help in repairing her house and property. Her father complains that he hears digging under the house at night. She is certain that he is imagining the noise and changes his medicine. Then the Arab boy asks her about the digging. She sleeps soundly and hears nothing. She decides she should stay up and listen, and she hears the digging as well. What is going on? What is Amos Oz telling us?In summary, in these vignettes, Amos Oz explores the psyche of people in a small village, such as the puppy love of a seventeen year old boy for a short plump overworked librarian twice his age in Strangers, where the boy rubs up against the older woman, and the psychological and sociological consequences to the two of them. The story is called Strangers because of these consequences. But Oz gives us much more than a fascinating exploration of the mind-set of village people. These people are a mirror that reflects life outside of the village.
This sad, but hauntingly beautiful, book is composed of stories of individuals who live in the fictitious rural century-old village of Tel Ilan in Israel. Since all of the stories take place within this small village, characters from one story often make cameo appearances in other stories. The stories are rich and layered. All except the last one dwell upon the psychological depths of an individual (each different) at a particular place and time. For readers who are familiar with life in Israel, the characters and their feelings seem very familiar. There is no resolution to the issues posed in the stories, a fact which makes each story significantly unsettling. Although I loved reading most of this book, I was taken aback by the last story (¿In a Faraway Place at Another Time¿) which seemed totally incongruous with the rest of the book. I just wish it hadn¿t been included in this otherwise slim and perfect volume. My favorite story was ¿Relations¿ in which Dr. Gili Steiner, a physician, awaits the arrival of her soldier nephew Gideon, newly released from the hospital following a kidney infection.This book is a pleasure to read with its poignant and evocative writing. However, I would advise reading this book slowly as there is much to savor in each individual story. Plan to take the time to feel the depths of each one by itself.