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REVIEWING

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump

By Michiko Kakutani

Tim Duggan Books—Crown | 2018

Reviewed by Michael Moreau

How We See the World Now

Michiko Kakutani

Probably the first lie you told was to the person closest to you in the world, your mother. You may have been four years old and the smell of baking chocolate chip cookies was mesmerizing. She had told you could have one after they had cooled on the kitchen counter, then one more after dinner. You couldn’t wait. When she had gone outdoors to water the garden, you took not one, but three out of the pan. You wolfed them down quickly, before she came back in.

She caught you rushing out of the kitchen and confronted you. Did you eat the cookies? You said no. But the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming. She said your father would deal with you when he got home—not for eating the cookies, but for lying. The next three hours were an eternity of agony. You learned that lying was punishable by something worse than death.

Years later in college you were taught that plagiarism is one of the greatest crimes and could quickly end your academic career. You learned how to attribute everything that isn’t common knowledge or your own opinion to its original source.

Then, in newspaper work everything you write is fact checked down to the most seemingly innocuous detail. A call in the night could be from a sallow editor asking if Councilman X actually said, 63 cents out of every dollar in tax revenue went to policing?

And then all those lessons in truth telling seemed to vanish down a rathole.

At this writing the largest wildfire in California history is uncontained, vaporizing hundred-year-old redwoods in a horrific path of destruction, snuffing out small villages once populated by logging families whose way of life is finished.

Shockingly, if shock is even still possible, in the midst of this calamity, President Donald Trump announced that the fires could be stopped if the state of California was not recklessly diverting massive amounts of needed water into the Pacific Ocean and preventing the forests from being cleared by logging companies.

There was no truth to the presidential pronouncements. Water isn’t being diverted into the ocean and fires like the one near Redding are not fought primarily with water but with firebreaks and fuel clearance. As for the pro-logging statement, the fact is that the over logging of old growth trees leaves only saplings and brush that act as kindling for conflagrations.

The problem is that truth in Trumpland has become scarcer than fire-free months in California.

In her new book The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump recently-retired, longtime New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani draws on years of wide reading to trace the path that led to our current truth-free condition.

Trump may be the apotheosis of the anti-truth movement, but Kakutani finds the roots of the problem goes far back into our national psyche. Philip Roth, fifty years ago, referred to “the indigenous American berserk” and historian Richard Hofstader, in 1964, wrote in “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” of the “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that has long run in parallel to the ideals of “truth, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In what now seems to be a grand paradox, in that same year, John Rousselot, an official in the John Birch Society, and also a congressman from a district near Los Angeles, wrote of the United Nations: “We know that it is an instrument of the Soviet Communist conspiracy.” Square this with Trump’s sycophantic embrace of the ex-KGB operative and current Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

This curious Russo-philia also extends to what has become one of Trump’s pet descriptors for the hated media. “Enemies of the people” is a phrase coined by Lenin and then favored by Stalin to brand anyone who he didn’t consider sufficiently loyal. Millions of people so labeled were driven to gulags or savagely executed in Larentiy Beria’s prisons. A favored form of execution was a slow crushing of the skull in a vice.

His words have had the intended effect. An Ipsos poll just released at the time this is written indicates that a plurality of Republicans—43 percent—believe that Trump should have the authority to close down CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. That’s what it said: close down.

Kakutani’s examines how “a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the very value of truth, and what that means for America and the world.”

There has always been a strain in the American character that was observable in the mid-19th Century by Alexis de Tocqueville, the French writer who greatly admired American democracy but also observed a lack of civic debate and a tendency to believe charlatans and snake oil salesmen over scientific fact—a strain that Mark Twain relished in depicting.

But Kakutani places the origins of our current epidemic of truth-denying in the 1960s where a relativism germinated in the culture wars and was embraced by the New Left, which was “eager to expose the biases of Western, bourgeois, male-dominated thinking.” Concurrently, academics promoted the “gospel of post-modernism, which argued that there are no universal truths, only smaller personal truths.” If it was the left which set the country on this course, at present, Kakutani says, “relativist arguments have been hijacked by the populist right.”

And the manipulation of truth has infected the highest levels of governance.

In a New York Times Magazine article in 2004, writer Ron Suskind recalls a conversation with staff member of the George W. Bush administration who said, “We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. You, on the other hand are in what we call the reality-based community…. All of you will be left to study what we do.”

Trailing not too far behind the nascent relativism of the late 1960s was deconstructionism, a pernicious wave of literary criticism I saw first leaking into and then flooding English literature circles in the 1970s and beyond. Jacques Derrida in France (and for a time at the University of California at Irvine) was the leader of this quasi philosophy, whose chief U.S. proponents were J. Hillis Miller and Paul de Man.

First applied to literature, but later to spread to the study of history, architecture, and the social sciences, deconstructionism in Kakutani’s words “posited that all texts are unstable and irreducibly complex and that ever variable meanings are imputed by readers and observers.”

It promoted an extreme relativism that was ultimately nihilistic. Anything could mean anything. The author’s text was immaterial, as was the author’s intent. For the deconstructionists there could never be a commonsense reading of a text because all texts were open to infinite readings. And because it was only the reader who counted, the biography of the author was also irrelevant. This was convenient for one of the stars of deconstructionism.

Paul de Man, who left Belgium after World War II and eventually was to teach at Yale, was apparently a charismatic professor with a cult-like following in academic circles. In his self-reported biography, he talked of serving as a member of the Belgian Resistance. In reality, as well-documented in books by David Lehman and Evelyn Barish, de Man was a con artist, and, as Kakutani writes, “an opportunist, bigamist, and toxic narcissist who’d been convicted in Belgium of fraud, forgery, and falsifying records.” As for his valor in the resistance, that was pure bunk. In fact, a Belgium researcher found out, four years after de Man’s death, that during the war he was a Nazi collaborator who had written for pro-Nazi publications espousing virulent anti-Semitism. In one of his pieces he wrote of the Jews as a “demoralizing influence in the realm of thought, literature, and the arts.”

So convoluted is the reasoning of deconstructionists that de Man defenders said that his anti-Semitic obscenities weren’t what they appeared to be at all, but rather that they meant just the opposite of what they actually said. They were meant ironically!

While deconstructionism is less popular since the debunking of one of its saints, the language—which could easily fit into George Orwell’s seminal essay “Politics and the English Language,” which sets the gold standard in decrying the degradation of discourse—continues to affect our speech. Terms like “indeterminacy of texts,” “alternative ways of knowing,” and the “linguistic instability” of language could easily fit into the ways Donald Trump’s subordinates attempt to rationalize his distortions and misrepresentations.

Kakutani spends time on deconstructionism because it has permeated our way of looking at objectively reality. It maintains that all of the efforts of journalists and historians to “ascertain the best available truths through the careful gathering and weighing of evidence—are futile.” There is no truth there is only infinitude of “truths.”

This book is a product in part but not wholly a reaction to the age of Trump. Trump is the immediate problem, but he is also the symptom of a long-brewing malignancy within the culture: the dumbing down of social discourse that was decried in Neil Postman’s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death

We have entered the world of around the clock infotainment. This is concomitant with a term used by the Rand Corporation in a recent report: “truth decay.” The report describes the “diminishing role of facts and analysis” in America public life, citing the persistence of climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers as evidence. The nation’s leader has embraced both positions.

The president persistently stands by his claim that his inauguration drew the biggest-ever crowd to the National Mall. And though this was shown to be counter-factual, he stands behind the claim of his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway that his version is a perfectly acceptable “alternative” fact.

As a writer and for years as a journalist the lodestar for my professional work and in my personal transactions has been the ideal of truth, the belief that a careful ascertainment of facts could lead in the direction of the ideal of truth—admittedly never quite encompassing it. And for much of my life there were some generally agreed to facts that might possibly lead to truth. Two plus two would always equal four.

In the last session with O’Brien in 1984 Winston refuses let go of that truth.  His torturer holds up four fingers and demands “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston.”

“Four,” Winston insists.

“And if the Party says that it is not four but five—then how many?”

“Four.”

“No,” O’Brien insists. “Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

Kakutani’s book is a plea for the immutability of truth. For the insistence that four can only be four and nothing else.

Michael Moreau is a frequent contributor to the Neworld Review



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REVIEWING

Ella: A Biography

By Geoffrey Mark

Ultimate Symbol | 2018

Reviewed by Fred Beauford

Ella Fitzgerald

I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald in 1980. I had listened to her for years on television, on the radio and in the occasional movie that featured her. Of course, she was an great singer, but often seemed to me, old fashion. For example, her breakout hit, which occurred when she was a still teenager, and I was not yet born, was in 1938, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

I had never owned any of her records despite my being the editor of Black Creation: The Quarterly of Black Arts and Letters, Soul, the magazine of black music, and Neworld: The Multi-Cultural Magazine of the Arts.

However, that changed when I received two CD sets from a record company that wanted me to review them in Neworld Magazine. They were The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, and The Cole Porter Songbook. In a few shorts months after receiving them, hating LA so much that I turned and gave it the finger as I rode the Greyhound bus out of town, I packed up everything I owned, including the unopened CD’s, closed my beloved magazine down, and moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

However, I was still teaching a Magazine Making and Publishing course at USC, one night a week, the first such magazine course of its kind on the West Coast. I would take the Greyhound in the morning and take the redeye bus at night, right after my class was over.
To deal with the tedium of sitting on a bus for so many hours, for some reason, I first brought along the Gershwin songbook, plugged in my earphones, and soon fell deeply in love with such a marvelous voice.

Now I knew why Downbeat, the renown jazz magazine, year after year, named her the number one jazz singer in the world.

***

Ella, like many black singers born at the time, was born in 1918 in Newport News, Virginia, and was the product of a broken home of common-law parents.

Her mother Tempie and her father William, soon separated, and Tempie moved the family to Yonkers, in Westchester County, New York. Mother and daughter moved in with Tempie’s Portuguese lover, Joseph Da Silva, often referred to as Ella’s stepfather. Ella always said nice things about him to the press, but author Geoffrey Mark uncovers the sex abuse that he inflicted on her when she was a child.

They lived in an ethnically mixed area of Italians, Spanish and blacks. Her mother died at the age of 38. The reason for her early death is murky, and afterwards things because rough for the young Ella.

Writes Mark, “Ella’s aspirations for Yonkers success were ended when her hardworking mother died in 1932. The next two years were perhaps Ella’s most difficult. Joe Da Silva turned increasingly to alcohol and increasingly turned his attention to young Ella. Whether he was simply comforting himself from grief, taking out his anger and grief on the youngster, or actually saw her as a sex object, the man was sexually abusing her.”

Two years later Ella left his house and moved in with her mother’s sister’s home on 145th Street in Harlem. That didn’t work out well, and she tried to run away. She was caught by the authorities and sent to the New York State Training School for Girls.

Writes Mark, “It boggles the mind that this Dickensian institution had Ella Fitzgerald in their midst but would not allow her to sing in the choir. It was restricted to white girls only.”

She was asked to come back after she became famous, but “turned them down in colorful language.”
She finally fled from the Institution and became semi-homeless on the streets of Harlem, sleeping where ever she could, hanging out with “Ladies of the Night” and becoming a number runner at the height of the Great Depression.  But she found out that she could sing.
As almost always for blacks, it started in the church, in this case the Bethany African Methodist Episcopal Church of Harlem.

At this time black Harlem had three major assets: music, dance and singing. One white wag even noted, “The Negro is in trouble again, and yet again, trying to sing his way out of it.”

Well, Ella did manage to sing her way out of harm’s way big time. Writes Mark, “The Apollo Theatre had a policy of having an amateur night, a performance of new talent after the ‘real’ show was over. The concept of having these showcases began at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre on 132nd in 1933. The winner received a prize of a trophy, cash, or perhaps a professional booking.”

In January 1934, Ella’s life changed forever. She got her shot at the Apollo amateur night and sang a song named, “Judy.” When she finished, the often-unruly crowd quieted, and “you could hear a rat piss on cotton,” someone wrote.

She then sang “Believe It Beloved”

Said Mark, “Ella brought the house down, winning first prize, and a reportedly $25.00. Had she not won the contest, Ella would have never pursued a career as a vocalist. She called the evening, ‘the turning point of my life. Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from the audience—I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.’”

And she did just that with successes almost unparallel in American history. She died on June 18, 1996, at age 78, just a few years after her last performance.

Her contemporary, Billie Holiday (Lady Day) and later, Tina Turner, both got their day on the big screen. Giving what I now know about Ella Fitzgerald, she should also be given the honor of the big screen. After such a harrowing childhood, she rose to be the leading lady of American song. How many Americans can say that! This is America at its finest.

This book will give you a great tour of Ella’s music career, along with passing glances of her private life. It is well worth purchasing.

Fred Beauford is the editor of The Neworld Review.



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REVIEWING

The Promise and the Dream ~ The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy

By David Margolick

Rosetta Books | 2018 | 400 pages

Reviewed by M. J. Moore

David Margolick

What a Time It Was . . .

For fifty years now, two political assassinations in 1968 have haunted America.

When assassins’ bullets annihilated both Dr. Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy within a time span of scarcely three months (MLK was cut down in April, RFK in June of 1968), irreparable damage resulted to the nation’s psyche and soul.

A telling remark by Congressman John Lewis, a major figure in the history of the 1960s, rings true: “When these two young men were murdered, something died in all of us.  We were robbed of part of our future.”

In different ways, across demographics, regarding everything from the Civil Rights crusade of the 1960s to the increasingly militant antiwar movement that dominated the news, as the Vietnam War continued its perennial agonies, the dual murders of MLK and RFK made 1968 a shattering, disorienting, tragic year.

In The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, author David Margolick, an ace reporter and independent historian, whose decades of contributions to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and other magazines and newspapers make for a stunning track record, sets out to do what no other biographer, scholar, or historical scribe has attempted—to ascertain how the unfolding destinies of King and Kennedy dovetailed throughout the 1960s.

Margolick succeeds at this challenging narrative quest.  And “challenging” is too weak a word to describe what he faced.   In short, the martyrdom of both men, brought about by their shared doom in the spring and summer of 1968, has created the illusion of partnership in the public imagination.  Yet, the men hardly ever met.

We tend to think that MLK and RFK were always allies.  Kindred spirits.  Probably very much in contact with each other from the dawn of the 1960s (with its Freedom Rides and sit-ins and the March on Washington) to the latter part of that fractured epoch (when “We Shall Overcome” shifted to “Black Power!” and Vietnam became America’s ultimate fault line).  The truth is far more complicated.

And to get at the truth, David Margolick uses to great advantage a linear, strict chronological order to his sequence of fourteen chapters.  The shared demise of King and Kennedy in 1968 bookends the narrative, with devastating impact.  The eyewitness testimonials quoted in the text are powerful, but there’s also the utterly stunning array of vivid, pulverizing photographs abundantly used in the book.

It’s a tribute to Margolick’s adroit skill as a reporter and his wide-ranging curiosity as a student of history that despite a dual biographical agenda about a story we all know ends in desolate grief, he succeeds at luring us to turn the pages avidly.

The reason for this is that in developing his 14 chapters, with inviting, vibrant titles like “History Would Keep Them Together,” “The Face of Courage,” “Ripple of Hope,” and “Change Would Come”, Margolick recapitulates the escalating tensions of America’s political, cultural, social, racial, and historical milestones from 1960 to 1968.  Year after year, as one episode followed another, the omnipresent conflicts over integration, from lunch counters and bus depots to universities and urban neighborhoods, were always competing with other insurgent issues, ranging from war overseas to American society’s ruptures regarding the sexual revolution and the withering influences of religious institutions.  It was a chaotic, incendiary time.

Less than one dozen times in that era of colossal confrontations, the paths of MLK and RFK crossed.  They rarely saw each other in person.  Phone calls were rare.

And yet, far removed from each other as they were, each man evolved throughout the 1960s in ways that somehow generated a sense of common ground, a notion of kinship, a subtle yet increasingly palpable yearning to build a new kind of nation.

The key element that incrementally bonded the works and days of Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy boiled down to their shared conviction that America’s economic injustices were part and parcel of all other problems.   A shared sympathy for the poor caused both men to stress more and more (from the mid-1960s to their final days in 1968) that crises—from racism in American cities to foreign policy brutalities all over the world—had to be seen as problems rooted in capitalism’s corruptions, and failures.

Wading deeply into topics and priorities they were often advised to avoid, both King and Kennedy, especially as 1966 gave way to the mayhem of 1967-68, relentlessly spoke out, vehemently addressing not just economic abuses suffered by poor urban blacks, but also the plight of desperate rural whites, working-class voters, remote Native Americans and the endlessly exploited Hispanics throughout North America.

RFK’s alignment with Cesar Chavez is significantly highlighted.  So are the combined priorities and allied demographics that Dr. King attempted to galvanize for his 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, which was intended to be a massive coalition of America’s poor and disenfranchised (of all races and backgrounds), pitching camp at the same locale where King’s “I Have a Dream” speech had offered a day of hope in 1963.

Time after time, by 1968, both King and Kennedy were connecting the dots.  Their final speeches, as Fate would have it, stressed overtly that economic disparities had to be overcome if ever America’s citizenry were ever to enjoy anything like equality.

Then: Both men were murdered within 62 days of each other.  To claim that losing them in 1968 was like “the death of hope” is no exaggeration.

Now, a half-century later, America’s embroiled in so many newly-conflicted forms of political and historical distress that only the word “surreal” seems apt for our times.  And what about the momentous year 1968?  The calendar does not lie.  Today, the year 1968 is as long ago as the year 1918 was, as the tragedies of ’68 accumulated.

Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy are both enshrined as icons, but now more than ever their latter-day devotion to economic reforms and racial reconciliation is at odds with an America that seems to be spiraling toward—who knows what’s next?

In addition to David Margolick’s majestic text (he makes excellent use of quotations from a staggering variety of sources) and the many dozens of photographs which illustrate this book, The Promise and the Dream benefits greatly from remarks contributed by Andrew Young, one of Dr. King’s most stalwart colleagues.

Mr. Young defines the MLK/RFK dynamic as a “distant camaraderie . . . a spiritual brotherhood [that] leaped across the widest chasms of our time—a bridge across lines of race, class, and geography which nevertheless led them to a common, tragic destiny.  If there is an afterlife . . . and I have no doubt there is, I am sure they are together—finally able to share the much-denied love that could never be fulfilled in a world such as ours.”

M. J. Moore is a frequent contributor to Neworld Review.



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REVIEWING

Nemesis (A Novel)

By David Pinto

Heliotrope Books

Reviewed by M. J. Moore

David Pinto

Careful What You Wish For

One of the essential elements that strong fiction writing usually has in common with good screenwriting (whether for films or television) is that steering characters into conflict or danger as soon as possible is a sure to hook the audience.  Right off the bat.

Furthermore, if the conflict or danger has something to do with a romance gone wrong or desire gone haywire, so much the better. It’s a given that any sexual angle will spice things up as well—thus risky or erotic business creates plot points.

So far, so good.  Now, if you can overlay all the above with a bit of mystery (let’s say, a detective story) that ropes in a lawyer or perhaps a doctor and, of course, the dead body of someone elusive (it helps if that character was a beautiful, sensual female) then as a storyteller you are holding all the aces.  A winning narrative hand, indeed.

What makes David Pinto’s debut novel, Nemesis, so startling is that he deftly invokes all the above not just in the first few chapters of his riveting noir-style novel, but, he does so within the first few pages—actually, he hits the bull’s-eye on page one.

Readers are as impatient as moviegoers.  That’s why screenwriters are compelled (almost always) to make the first ten minutes of the film (known as “the set-up”) as captivating as can be.  Similarly, writers are wise to waste none of the reader’s time.

Well, novelist David Pinto may have set a record for narrative lapel-grabbing.  Here is how Nemesis begins :

“Police station?”

“You must come immediately,” Elliot Barrett II implored his lawyer and best friend.

“What in the hell are you doing in a police station?” Ted Lapoltsky shouted.

“Can’t talk out here.”

“Just tell me if you are in some kind of trouble.”

“I think it’s a mix up.”

“Elliot, listen to me. Don’t say anything to the police without me there to represent you.  It’s very important.”

“Just hurry up!” Elliot urged impatiently.

“I’ll be there in thirty minutes, you know how Manhattan traffic is. And remember, not a word to anyone.”

After getting off the phone, Elliot found himself handcuffed by a police officer and led through long, iron-gated corridors to a small cell with a bunk bed in the right corner. There were no windows, and bright fluorescent lights revealed walls full of scratches and scribbles etched onto the dirty gray surface by its previous prisoners. Elliot’s throat was dry, and he felt a twisting pain in his stomach.  He looked frequently at his watch, as if that would bring Ted faster.  His mind raced as he tried to figure out what to tell him.

He must sound convincing, he knew, to himself and to everyone else.  He could not afford to ruin his life and reputation as a senior doctor on staff at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  He would not be able to face his wife, Ruth, and his two children.  He didn’t want to compromise his father and mother’s status in high-society Boston.

Deftly using dialogue to establish tension, danger, and inevitable conflict, the author has also managed (with no meandering back-story padding) to introduce his two primary male protagonists—and with one being a lawyer and the other a doctor, it’s safe to assume that there will be a boatload of upscale crime and passion revealed.

I won’t let spoilers ruin the reading experience awaiting anyone who picks up this spellbinding novel.  Nonetheless, I will concede that the entire narrative turns on the incrementally revealed sexual choreography that’s unfolded in the lives of these two upstanding, solid citizens.

They come to discover (pun intended) that the dead woman about whom the police have questions (and whom the police assume was murdered) is, in fact, the same woman that each man, unbeknownst to each other, has exploited as a mistress.

Elliot Barrett II and his devoted attorney friend, Ted Lapoltsky, in addition to being two ideal, top-tier white-collar professionals (fat incomes, skinny wives, fast cars, summer homes—you know the type), are also philandering husbands whose careers and families are drastically imperiled.

A tight, cinematic, onrushing narrative flow carries the story throughout its 200-plus pages, and Pinto’s skill with dialogue and details is robust each step of the way.

This novel has the simmering heat of up-market erotica a’ la 9 ½ Weeks and the excruciating, white-knuckle legal machinations of Scott Turow’s best works.

Nemesis reminds us that powerful storytelling is always a royal seduction.

M. J. Moore is a frequent contributor to Neworld Review.



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REVIEWING

A Tale of Love and Darkness

By Amos Oz

Translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange

Harcourt Books

Reviewed by Jane McCabe

I chose to read this book for this reason: I was interested in what it was like to grow up, like its author did, in Israel since its inception as a modern nation in 1948 and its development since. I figured the book would be good because Oz is Israel’s most widely published novelist. This book, however, is not a novel; rather it’s a memoir mostly about his childhood and early adulthood.

I was not disappointed—from its first pages I was enchanted and felt as though I was reading the writing of a kindred spirit. I had the same experience as he when as I child: I was so deeply absorbed in reading Little House on the Prairie that I thought I was there and when called to dinner it took a few seconds to return to the “real” world. Oz writes of his own absorption in a book as follows: “When my father asked me, half angrily, half affectionately, what was the matter with me this time, it took a while for me to come back to this world…of everyday chores.”

Amos Oz’s parents were European Jews who settled in Jerusalem in the 1930’s. His father’s family was from Odessa; they were a family of scholars. His great uncle, Dr. Joseph Klausner, was a famous Israeli linguist. His father’s great disappointment was his inability to get a teaching position, however, in those days Israel was rife with scholars. His father’s brother David had refused to leave Odessa and was killed by the Nazis.

His mother family was from Rovno, Poland. She was middle sister of three; her father became wealthy and purchased a large home in Rovno. Their mother was something of a harridan. His mother’s psychological disposition was delicate, causing her greater problems as she grew older.

Though Oz supplies the reader with plenty of information about the nascent state of Israel, the book is primarily about his mother’s suicide.

After long being tormented with bouts of medical depression and insomnia on January 6th, 1952, she ended her life at the age of 38 in the apartment of her sister Haya on Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv, by means of an overdose of sleeping pills. Oz was 12 years old.

He comments, “It rained heavily almost without break all over Israel through that winter of 1951-52.”

If there’s a human action I most disdain it’s suicide. Though I understand that those who resort to it have been, as Fania Klausner was, long tormented by their mere existence, still I find it hard to forgive them because of what it does to those whom they have left behind.

In Fania’s case I think her suicide was calculated—she figured those whom she most loved could get along without her, her husband and her beloved son Amos.

As it turned out within a year Arieh had remarried and had in time two children with his new wife—so, it would seem he had determinedly carried on without Fania, and yet “in the last years of his life his shoulders slumped. He had grim fits of rage when he would hurl rebukes and accusations at anyone around him….” Eighteen years after his first wife died, on October 11, 1970, four months after his 60th birthday, after buying some stationery from a store in Jerusalem, he wished the clerk good day, greeted two strangers who were in line behind him, stepped outside the shop and dropped dead of a heart attack.” I don’t think he ever truly recovered from Fania’s suicide.

As for Amos Oz, at the age of 15 he joined a kibbutz, where he remained for the next 30 years. At that age he knew he wanted to write but thought he had to go to some exotic location to do so—London, Paris, Milan.

“It was Sherwood Anderson,” he writes, “who got me out of the vicious circle and freed my writing hand.”

When he read Winesburg, Ohio, which is a string of stories revolving the trivial, everyday happenings in a small town, it opened his eyes to write about what was around him!

By now Oz has written 13 novels, four books of non-fiction and one children’s book. He is happily married to a remarkably happy woman named Nily, to whom he was attracted because she was always singing. They have several children. He has received numerous awards for his work. This is the first book I’ve read of his, and I found it to be wonderfully satisfying—I’m glad for his happiness and hope Nily continues to sing.

Jane M McCabe is an associate editor and frequent contributor to the Neworld Review.



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