Scenes from Village Life

Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz, translated by Nicholas de Lange is a beautifully written book. The use of language is exquisite. It has been translated from Hebrew by his long time translator and reviewers credit de Lange with a fine translation.

The book is a collection of short stories, set in the century old pioneer village of Tel Ilan. While each story focuses on a different character and resident of the village, many of the characters can be found in several of the stories.

One might expect a village and village life to be cozy and secure. Not so, in this book. As Claire Messud indicates in her New York Times review, "Each of the collection’s eight stories shows someone searching, either literally or metaphorically, and without success, for relief. " Further she says, "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. "

Much of the beauty of the language and of the book is in the description of place and of person. Where each story is set and who the characters are who inhabit the stories is so clear that you can, indeed, sense it with the use of your senses - feel, see, and even taste.

Following are three brief quotes from the text. "The stranger was not quite a stranger." is the first line of the book. And the last line, in the final and most allegorical story, entitled "In a Faraway Place at Another Time"is "And that's all there is to it." One more quote from a story near the end called "Strangers", "And the distance from pity to love was like the distance from the moon reflected in a puddle to the moon itself." All three quotes are typical of the language and tone of the book, its sense of mystery, of unease, of lack of resolution, its tone of allegory and, at times, of the surreal.

The book may be read on many levels of understanding. It is not necessary to understand the references to other literature, to political situations, or to any other specifics of life in Israel in order to appreciate the book, although it may add to levels of understanding when reading this multi-layered work. Fundamentally, however, Scenes From Village Life can be read and understood as a very human set of stories and situations, primarily stories of loss and loneliness and disaffection, portrayals of an aspect of the human condition. Messud's review of the book is so fine, that this entry ends with the final quote from her review: “Scenes From Village Life is a brief collection, but its brevity is a testament to its force. You will not soon forget it."

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