Tragic, comic and incomparable: an autobiographical epic and a comedie humaine for our times, which is both the portrait of an artist and the story of the birth of a nation, spanning several generations and moving with them from Russia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, to Jerusalem.
Love and darkness are just two of the many forces which run through Amos Oz's extraordinary, moving autobiographical novel. He takes us on a bold, courageous journey through his childhood and adolescence, and into the infernal marriage of two kind, well-meaning people: his parents. At the tragic heart of the story, its defining moment, is the suicide of his mother, when Amos was twelve-and-a-half years old. Soon after, still a gawky adolescent, he turned his back on his father and on the bookish world of his family, left home, changed his name and became a tractor driver on a kibbutz. The plot moves back and forth in time, diving into 120 years of family history, a saga of a Jewish love-hate affair with Europe, a tale full of sound and fury and longing, loneliness and loss and farce, that moves from Latvia and the Ukraine to Jerusalem. In search of the remote roots of his family tragedy, Amos Oz reveals the various tales, secrets and skeletons of four generations of dreamers, scholars, failed businessmen and self-fashioned poets, world reformers, old-world womanisers and rebellious black sheep. A vast gallery of comic, pathetic, dreamy, tragic and extravagant characters, men and women, provides for the 'genetic cocktail' and for the almost surreal circumstances for the appearance, down the line, of a fantasy-ridden only son who in one fatal moment of revelation-through-loss-and-shock is transformed into an artist: the birth of a novelist. This is a personal epic, the portrait of an artist who has witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history as well as his own. He brings alive not only his family's past but that of a wartorn and divided country. But even the darkest moments are painted with that Oz touch, where compassion, irony, playfulness and a ferocious wit combine in this remarkable Jewish-Israeli comedie humaine for our times.