This is fundamentally the story of a family. A compelling, deeply sad and deeply joyful book about the early youth of a sensitive boy and his fascinating, strange, delightful, haunted crazy-quilt family . All of these people are brought to life with great care and love. Their world is in many ways a world of fear and desperation. They carry so many of the burdens and misery of the old world while working against and with each other in their passionate calling to build out of the cauldron of British-mandated Palestine what is to become the new state of Israel. So many individuals and groups trying to convince, argue, and force their points of view on their new society. So many Jews having fled their old lives, homes and societies hoping to start a new homeland free from persecution in a strange, foreign and desert land populated by Muslim peoples. Out of this struggle grows much hopefulness and wisdom and also much despair and misery. To me this book speaks at many levels – families, childhood, big social upheavals. It helps us realize the importance of loving and wise people in our lives – a special teacher like Zelda, a Grandfather who lives life to the full. There is also a relentless unfolding of the deep sadness at the core of his parents’ marriage.
One of the revelations is that this is a moving portrait of all of us. We all have our ambitions, pretensions, kindnesses, manias, dashed hopes. We somehow all striving for love, honour, connection to great causes. In short, we learn more of what it is to be human from reading this book.
Oz’s political opinions are nuanced. He recognizes the misery that Israel has caused for the Palestinian people forced from their homes and world into refugee camps. He shows how he changes his mind from his original Herut positions. Nevertheless, it must be challenging to try for any kind of peace and reconciliation in the most deeply divided, militant and tumultuous regions of the world.